Ethan Werek potted his 20th goal for the club but it wasn’t enough to save the Dragons from defeat at the start of our latest road trip. Despite a thrilling finish that saw Red Star claw back a 1-4 deficit and twice get back to within one goal in the last minutes, the grip that Amur exerted in the second period was just enough to see the home team over the line.
That shouldn’t detract from Ethan’s individual achievement, though. The 29-year-old is only the eighth player in franchise history to reach the 20-goal mark. Chad Rau was the first, scoring exactly 20 in his first and only season with the club, while three of Werek’s current colleagues – Luke Lockhart, Cory Kane and Tyler Wong – are also on the list. And our forward’s returns are improving. Today’s goal, stuffed home after Hunter Shinkaruk went around the back and dragged home goalie Marek Langhamer out of position, moves Ethan to 22 points for the season. That matches last year’s total, but from 36 appearances rather than the 61 games he played last term.
That goal also cancelled out an opener from Matvei Zaseda midway through the first period. Jeremy Smith was left stranded by a shot that boomed back off the back boards and the youngster arrived at the back door to shovel the puck into the net for his first KHL goal.
The second period brought early chances at both ends. Kirill Rasskazov was forced wide of an empty net by Ruslan Pedan’s positional sense before Ivan Nikolishin tested Langhamer on an odd-man rush. But the breakthrough went against the Dragons when our attack broke down on the blue line and a swift, effective counter attack ended with Vladimir Butuzov finding the net at the other end. A couple of minutes later it was 3-1, with ex-Dragon Dmitry Arkhipov scoring on his former team-mates off a Zaseda assist, and early in the third Zaseda’s second of the night (and career) made it 4-1.
For many teams, that would have been the end of the game. But the Dragons kept fighting. A bench challenge denied Amur a fifth goal – the video review confirmed that Smith was impeded as Tomas Zohorna shot for goal – and moments later Red Star was back in the game thanks to Spencer Foo. He reacted first when Langhamer patted away a looping shot from Viktor Baldayev and lifted the puck over the goalie’s glove to make it 2-4. This, too, was referred to the video, and again we got the verdict we wanted – a legitimate goal, and a route back into the game.
That route was even clearer when Kane made it a one-goal game with three-and-a-half minutes left, and a penalty on Arkhipov handed the Dragons a glorious chance to salvage a tie in the closing moments. Smith returned to the bench and our guys tried to seize the initiative while playing 6-on-4. Even an empty net goal from Valentin Pyanov could not quite finish it off: within seconds a Pedan shot deflected off Lockhart in front of the net, making it 4-5 with 50 seconds on the clock. In the end, it was the Tigers clinging on to secure the win as the Dragons bravely took the battle to the final seconds before succumbing in a pulsating finale. The teams meet again in two days – hopefully to produce a similarly exciting game with a different winner.