This should have been a week off, with KHL play paused for the latest round of international action. But a week is a long time without hockey, so it seemed like the perfect chance to play a game that had to be rearranged from earlier in the season. So, as we celebrate Chinese New Year on Thursday, the Dragons go to Finland to take on Jokerit.
Last time out: It’s less than a week since Jokerit came to Mytishchi and escaped with a hard-fought 2-1 victory. Ethan Werek’s 14th goal of the season put Red Star in front, but a late power play goal from Brian O’Neill sent the points to Helsinki.
Familiar faces: Former Red Star forward Veli-Matti Savinainen is currently playing for Jokerit. He has 22 (13+9) points this season but has failed to score in his last 10 games.
Background: It’s a special time in China right now, with the New Year festivities getting underway in time for the arrival of the Year of the Ox on Friday. Since we’ll be on the road for the holiday, the Dragons got the party started early at our previous home game against Vityaz. After that free-scoring hockey festival, our fans came to greet the players and share New Year gifts. They handed over homemade banners, evoking centuries of tradition, that could be seen in homes all over China at this time of year. That beautiful calligraphy expresses wishes for health, prosperity and happiness – the kind of messages familiar all over the world when our big festivals roll around. To date, though, there are no traditional Chinese greetings to bring luck on the hockey rink; part of our team’s on-going mission is to embed our great game more deeply into Chinese culture.
The Year of the Rat, which comes to an end on Thursday, was the toughest in our club’s short history to date. On and off the ice, we’ve faced unprecedented challenges due to the global situation. But we are still here, in spite of everything, and primed to continue on a more stable footing in the upcoming Year of the Ox. While Thursday’s opponent, Jokerit, is one of several teams battling to secure a playoff place, the Dragons have already won our biggest battle of the season simply by competing and completing the campaign.
However, the imminent start of a new year is also a good time to focus on bringing positive changes – and victory in Helsinki would snap our nine-game losing streak and lift the team off the foot of the Eastern Conference as the regular season goes into its final weeks. That would be some way to finish a difficult year.