After Neftekhimik’s win on Tuesday, Red Star slipped back to the foot of the Eastern Conference table. What more motivation did the Dragons need to end this road trip on a winning note and moved back ahead of our closest rival in the standings? Well, how about the chance to avenge a painful 1-6 loss at home to Sibir last week? Or the opportunity to bury the 2021 hoodoo and secure a first victory of the calendar year? An impressive performance in the heart of Siberia achieved all of this.
After a long road trip – Mytishchi to Khabarovsk is the longest flight of the season, but at 3,500km Khabarovsk to Novosibirsk isn’t exactly an afternoon stroll of a journey either – strategy was important. The plan had to involve starting on the front foot, building a lead and then using the clock as a sixth skater to put Sibir under time pressure as our own energy levels inevitably dropped in the latter stages of the game.
It was a simple scheme on paper, and on the ice it was executed beautifully. The first period was one of our best this season. The guys tore into Sibir fearlessly, undaunted by the heavy loss we suffered last time we played this team. Instead, it was a fine display of attacking intent from the start. The first reward came midway through the session as Sibir failed to clear its lines and Alexei Toropchenko’s lovely no-look pass set up Slava Leshchenko for the opening goal. That’s two in two games for Leshchenko as he continues to enjoy life in the Dragons’ Lair.
The first power play of the game came to us after 15 minutes and it produced the second goal of the evening. This time Ryan Sproul was the scorer, shooting home Ethan Werek’s feed out of the corner. After spending his birthday travelling across Russia, our defenseman gave himself something else to celebrate with his sixth goal of the season.
It could have been three at the intermission. The final play of the opening frame saw Luke Lockhart get the puck in the net. Unfortunately, though, the officials ruled that the goal came just after hooter and it could not be counted.
However, taking a deserved lead into the middle frame enabled us to hold Sibir at arm’s length. The home team wanted to raise the tempo and force its way back into contention, but a well-drilled display from the Dragons kept play away from our net. Better still, late in the session Werek added a third goal, skating around the back of Harri Sateri’s net and emerging to fire through traffic and beat the Finn. On the Sibir bench, Nikolai Zavarukhin claimed that Sean Collins impeded the goalie but the video said otherwise and the goal was good.
That left a frustrated home team with 20 minutes to try to save itself. Again, though, our game management was up to the task and Jeremy Smith was well protected by his team-mates. The extent of Sibir’s unhappiness was clear when Evgeny Chesalin got dragged into a fight with Toropchenko. A power play goal from Oleg Li midway through the third was scant consolation, and a tripping call for Vyacheslav Ushenin ate up vital seconds of potential recovery time for the home team. In the final two minutes of action, Sibir withdrew understudy goalie Anton Krasotikin and attempted one last push to save the game. But Smith was having none of it, calmly plucking efforts by Viktor Komarov and Yaroslav Khabarov out of the air to seal the victory.
Homeward bound now, and buoyed by a first win of 2021, the Dragons are back in action next Tuesday when Amur visits Mytishchi. Before that, though, our title-winning women’s team, the KRS Vanke Rays, has back-to-back games at home to Biryusa Krasnoyarsk on Friday and Saturday.