13 February 2021 Toropchenko
Alexei Toropchenko missed out on the Dragons’ first ever victory in Helsinki last week – but our forward was busy writing a little chapter of his own in our club’s history.
The 21-year-old, on loan from the St. Louis Blues this season, was called up to Russia ‘B’ for the Kazakhstan Open. Thus, he became the first man to represent a Russian national team while playing for the Dragons. That’s great news for everyone: this was the kind of experience the Blues were hoping their man would get on returning to Europe in search of game time, it proves once again that players can make an impact with our organization, and, of course, it’s a big boost for Alexei himself as he establishes himself in the senior game.
Things got better once the Russian roster got on the ice in Nur-Sultan. Game one saw Oleg Bratash’s team take on a Belarus team stacked with familiar faces from our games against Dinamo Minsk. Toropchenko made an immediate impact, digging the puck out of the corner to start the move that led to Ilya Morozov’s opening goal in the sixth minute for his first point of the tournament. Then, things got even better, with a first ever goal in Team Russia colors – whether in junior or senior hockey. This was a poacher’s finish, lurking on the slot, poised to pounce when Nikita Guslistov’s shot was blocked. And, of course, it makes our man the first KRS player to score for a Russian national team.
Belarus hit back in the second period to tie the scores, but Russia recovered to win 4-2. Alexei was excited by his first taste of men’s international action.
“It’s great to be part of a Russian national team, it’s a cool feeling,” he said after the game. “When you play for your country, you have to give 100 percent.
“We started the game really well but in the second period we eased off a bit. Luckily, we regained the initiative and closed out the win.”
That set up a de facto tournament final against Kazakhstan, which defeated Belarus 5-2 one day earlier. On this occasion, though, things did not go so well. Two goals from Nikita Mikhailis, who has a game-winning goal and two assists from Barys Nur-Sultan’s games against the Dragons this season, gave the host nation a narrow 2-1 victory.
Head coach Bratash, though, was happy with the way his young prospects acquitted themselves against a full-strength Kazakh team stepping up its preparations for this year’s World Championship.
“The opposition put out its strongest and most competitive roster,” he said. “We know these guys very well from their games with Barys. It was interesting to see our youngsters adapt to such a serious opponent and I think they came through this final exam well. The game was decided by one small detail. We had chances to win the game and in the locker room I applauded the players because they gave everything to try to win the game and only just came up short.”
However, there was a bright note to end the brief trip to Kazakhstan with a final exhibition game against a Kazakh ‘B’ team. This one ended in another Russian victory, 3-2 in overtime, to send Toropchenko and his team-mates home on a high.