Continuing our review of some of the high points of the 2020/2021 season, it’s time to look at our best saves of the campaign. As you might imagine, there were plenty of contenders in a season when the Dragons faced plenty of shots. But, even in our most difficult situations, this team refused to accept defeat … and here are five saves that personify the never-say-die spirit that sustained Red Star throughout the season.
Jake Chelios vs Sibir
Traditionally, this is all about goalies. However, sometimes even the best netminders need a helping hand from the defense. And, when Jake Chelios is on the ice, you know he’s got your back. Jeremy Smith pulled off a good stop to deny Dmitry Sayustov early in the third period, but when the puck dropped for Juuso Puustinen, it seemed that the Finn could not fail to put the rebound into an empty net. Jake had other ideas, though, and got his stick to the goal line to make a great save. It was the highlight of a good defensive performance from the Dragons, with Smith making 33 stops as we won 3-1.
Simon Hrubec vs Avangard
Simon Hrubec recently helped Avangard lift its first Gagarin Cup. But his journey to the Hawks possibly started early in the second period of our trip to Balashikha on September 25. Our under-strength Dragons were battling hard, and it was still a one-goal game at the time, when Hrubec produced a memorable skate save to deny Corban Knight. The defense was deceived by Pyotr Khokhlachyov abrupt reverse behind the net, and our Czech goalie had to quickly shift his center of balance to deal with a shot that Knight placed unerring into the tiniest of gaps between foot and post. That gap was gone in the time it took the puck to travel from stick to net; at the beginning of November, Simon was also gone to join Avangard.
Simon Hrubec vs SKA
That wasn’t the only time Simon found himself on the KHL’s ‘Save of the Month’ highlight reel. He followed it up with another big stop for us in October in the closing moments of our game at SKA. This time, the Dragons were up 2-1 and closing on a historic victory over the Army Men. Linden Vey, though, had other ideas, arriving at the back door to meet Anton Burdasov’s feed with a venomous one-timer. Once again, Hrubec showed his reactions and his agility, sliding from post to post, getting his pad behind the shot and then tumbling dramatically on top of the rebound. Unconventional, perhaps, but breathtakingly effective – like a lot of Czech goalies, Hrubec clearly grew up watching Dominik Hasek’s every move.
Jeremy Smith vs Avangard
In Jeremy Smith, we always knew we had a reliable replacement for Hrubec. It took a bit of time and paperwork to bring our American shot stopper back to the Dragons’ lair, but he was ready to join us in November and, in only his second appearance of the season, pulled off a highlight reel contribution. This time, it was a quintessential glove save, swatting away Sergei Tolchinsky’s goal bound effort after a Kirill Semyonov blast hammered back off the boards and into the danger zone. It was an important save as well: with barely four minutes on the clock, it kept the Dragons in contention at 2-3 before Ryan Sproul grabbed a last-minute equalizer and Hunter Shinkaruk potted the shoot-out winner. And the unlucky goalie in that decisive duel? Our old friend, Simon Hrubec!
Dmitry Shikin vs Salavat Yulaev
In truth, we could easily fill a Bunch of Fives with Dmitry Shikin’s best saves this season. In a campaign where all our goalies faced a lot of shots, Dmitry’s form was often the thing that kept us in games and gave us opportunities to win against the odds. From Sibir’s Evgeny Chesalin to Jokerit’s Markus Hannikainen and Iiro Pakarinen, robbed in a double save in Helsinki, there were many players left cursing after the blatant theft of yet another goal. But perhaps the biggest robbery of all from Shikin came in Ufa when our man denied the prolific Teemu Hartikainen. A point shot from Philip Larsen ricocheted through traffic and making the save cost Dima his stick. When the puck went straight to the free-scoring Finn, with the net at his mercy, everyone in the arena thought a goal was inevitable. Except for our goalie, who hurled himself full length across the crease to beat the shot to safety. That stop, midway through the game, was the catalyst for a huge fightback – the Dragons recovered from 0-4 to tie the scores, only to lose to a late goal.