The Dragons’ Olympic year

5 August 2021

The KHL’s official website,, had this to say about how Red Star is preparing for the coming season.

Last season

It’s clear that of all the teams in the KHL, Kunlun Red Star was hit hardest by the pandemic. Restrictions imposed by the Chinese government forced the club to relocate to Mytishchi on the outskirts of Moscow, where it will remain for the coming season. Problems with securing visas for imports wrecked the Dragons’ pre-season. Red Star began the campaign with a Russian core and gradually added imports. This was also Alexei Kovalev’s rookie season as head coach and, by his estimate, he worked with almost 70 different players over the course of the year. Overall, the team occasionally produced some good hockey – even recording a first ever win over SKA – but was unable to get close to the playoffs.


Goalies: Alexander Lazushin (Detva, Slovakia), Paris O’Brien (no club).
Defense: Vic Bartley (Unia, Poland), Colin Joe (no club), Mikael Tam (Rapid City, ECHL), Zach Yuen (no club)
Offense: Brandon Yip (Jukurit, Finland), Josh Nicholls (Heilbronner, DEL2), Chris Seto (no club), Greg Squires (no club), Hu Yang (no club)

Goalie: Jeremy Smith
Defense: Ryan Sproul, Jason Fram, Jake Chelios
Offense: Tyler Wong, Cory Kane, Luke Lockhart, Alex Riche, Parker Fu, Spencer Fu


This summer’s recruitment policy was dictated by the need to bring together as many players as possible who are eligible to represent China at the Olympics in February. That meant a return for the likes of Vic Bartley, Mikael Tam and Zach Yuen, who was the first Chinese player to score in the KHL. The return of Brandon Yip, a key figure in Chinese hockey, is especially noteworthy: he played in Finland last season.

Many of the departures are due to the Chinese accent on the team. Most of the Russian players on the team are gone. Only goalie Alexander Lazushin remains – and he could, theoretically, gain a Chinese passport and play at the Games. Forward Hunter Shinkaruk also left the club; in return Kunlun acquired the rights to Latvian forward Martins Dzierkals.


At the end of July, Kunlun named its new head coach. Ivano Zanatta, a Canadian with Italian heritage, got the job. In the KHL he had a short spell behind the bench at SKA a decade ago, then was assist to Kari Jalonen as Lev Prague reached the Gagarin Cup final. He also worked with Sochi. According to Red Star GM Nikolai Feoktistov, the decision was taken by China’s sporting authorities. Alexei Kovalev remains on the club’s coaching staff.


Kunlun’s #1 for the coming season will be American goalie Jeremy Smith. He’s due to acquire Chinese citizenship soon, making him eligible to play for China at the Olympics. Alexander Lazushin returns to the club as understudy, with youngster Paris O’Brien providing back-up.


The defensive lynchpins, as before, are Jake Chelios, son of Hall-of-Famer Chris Chelios, and Ryan Sproul. The latter was third in scoring on the team last season with 25 (9+16) points. They are supported by players with Chinese heritage: Vic Bartley put in some solid seasons here in the past but played in Poland last term; Zach Yuen was one of the key players on the team in its early years but was slowed by injury and did not play at all last season.


Once again, Brandon Yip is expected to lead the attack on his return after a year away. He’s the club’s all-time leading scorer with 85 (45+40) points in three seasons. There are hopes for more from the Fu brothers, Spencer and Parker, who did not produce their best form last season. Tyler Wong is another talented player looking to bounce back: in his first season in the KHL he produced 31 points, but last term that dropped to 15. Luke Lockhart remains a leader on and off the ice and will extend his club appearance record.


Right now, there’s only one player on the team younger than 23, and that’s goalie Paris O’Brien. He’s played in the KRS system for the Juniors and in the VHL. He’s currently the third-choice goalie, but it’s by no means impossible that he’ll see action for the first team.


The 2021/22 season will be the club’s sixth in the KHL, but China’s representative has only reached the playoffs in its first season. It’s clear that the current campaign will be spent looking for the perfect chemistry on the ice and in the locker room as China prepares to host the Olympics. Unlike last season, Red Star is enjoying a far more settled summer and, as such, has realistic hopes of battling for a playoff spot.

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Kunlun Red Star