Kunlun Red Star would like to wish all of our fans, players, coaches and staff a happy new year.
2020 was a unique and challenging year for everybody. Usually, as a club, we like to reflect on our achievements on the ice – and there have been many of those, especially from our women’s team, the Vanke Rays. This year, though, it’s important to remember how much we have done to keep our club competing in the KHL and Women’s Hockey League.
More than just competing, the Dragons are winning. The KRS Vanke Rays performed superbly in their first season in Russia’s WHL. Despite playing the final stages of the campaign in ‘exile’ when China’s borders closed due to the pandemic, our girls won the championship in impressive fashion without dropping a single game in the playoffs. That’s a reward for the commitment and talent of a fantastic squad that combined the top Chinese players – including a clutch of experienced veterans who represented their country at the 2010 Olympics – and some leading international stars. Under the guidance of head coach Brian Idalski, the team is once again riding high in the championship table this season, enjoying the best PPG ratio despite the disruption wrought by the pandemic.
There were individual achievements as well. Alex Carpenter dominated the WHL scoring and deservedly earned the tournament MVP award. Her partnership with Rachel Llanes was devastating throughout the year. The likes of Noora Raty, Megan Bozek and Hannah Miller provided vital big-game experience. And our home-grown talent, such as Zhixin Liu and Xueting Qi, made a huge contribution on defense and helped to blaze a trail for a new generation of Chinese women hockey players.
We even saw the Rays make their mark in the men’s game. Equipment manager Steph Klein, a reliable, unflappable presence on the bench, made a little bit of history in November when she transferred to the KHL for a few games while her counterpart for Red Star, Dmitry Safanov, was ill. In doing so, she became the first woman to work on the bench in the KHL and, we believe, in any top-level men’s league.
As for the men’s team, 2020 has brought some signs of progress despite adversity. This time last year, Curt Fraser’s roster looked capable of making the playoffs; had it not been for the strain of an endless road trip in the final weeks of the season our club might have contested its second KHL post season. Instead, as we all know, the pandemic intervened and the pressure of living out of suitcases took its toll.
But there are still successes to celebrate. Most recently, Hunter Shinkaruk’s eight-game scoring streak established a new club record. We’ve seen more players earn high profile moves to KHL giants, with Simon Hrubec joining Avangard and Trevor Murphy going to the league’s most successful club, Ak Bars. And two of our potential Chinese Olympians, Tyler Wong and Spencer Foo, were identified among the leading KHL rookies last season by the respected commentators of Match TV, Russia’s leading sports broadcaster.
Much of this has been achieved in the toughest of circumstances. The summer brought an enforced relocation, with our teams moving to Moscow Region where they have been warmly welcomed in Mytishchi and Stupino. Uncertainty about recruiting foreign players disrupted preparations for the start of the campaign: while we worked with the migration services in Russia and China, Alexei Kovalev’s new coaching team had to pull together a roster quickly from whichever players were available, resulting in a tough month when the action began. Only now, with a roster resembling what we’d like, are we seeing what this team can do – back-to-back wins to finish off 2020 will, hopefully, be a good omen for the coming year.
However, as we said at the start, these are unprecedented times. Everybody knows about the crisis that has engulfed the world, and especially our native China. Against the backdrop of the greatest public health emergency in generations, we are gratefully humbled by the dedication seen from our medical services on the front line and proud to support their efforts where we can. We are also thankful for the understanding and support we have received from the KHL and the relevant local and national authorities who have rallied to enable hockey to continue in difficult circumstances. And, of course, we are deeply indebted to everyone within the club for the hard work, commitment and loyalty that has enabled us to stay on the ice despite everything.
As we move into 2021, we hope that this tremendous effort will be rewarded with much better times ahead, and wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.