Winning start in Kazakhstan

11 August 2021

Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk 3 Kunlun Red Star 4

Day one of the President of Kazakhstan Cup was somewhat unexpected. Initially, this was conceived as a three-way tournament involving the Dragons, host club Barys and Dinamo Riga. However, Latvia’s quarantine rules meant that Dinamo would have to isolate for two weeks on returning from Nur-Sultan, prompting the team to withdraw.

In response, the organizers invited two of the leading teams from the Kazakh league – defending champion Saryarka Karaganda and today’s opponent, Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk. For scholars of Kazakh and Soviet hockey history, Torpedo is a well-known name: the club that nurtured Olympic champion Boris Alexandrov, and alma mater of a host of NHLers including Nik Antropov, Evgeny Nabokov and Alexander Perezhogin. In recent years it has featured in the Russian VHL alongside our own farm club, although last season it returned to the Kazakh championship due to the pandemic.

Thus, for Ivano Zanatta’s first game behind the bench, the Dragons faced an unfamiliar opponent. Our new head coach stuck with largely the same personnel we saw in the recent games against Vityaz, with only triallist Gleb Nazarov absent. Alexander Lazushin made his first appearance of the summer in goal, replacing Jeremy Smith.

In both of our pre-season games so far, we’ve enjoyed an early goal – and today was no exception. In the first minute, Jake Chelios moved down the left-hand channel and set up Luke Lockhart for the opener. That lead was shortlived, however, with Torpedo tying it up on the power play when veteran Russian forward Dmitry Shitikov’s shot was redirected by Anton Petrov in front of the net. In response, Red Star conjured a power play goal of its own at the first time of asking, with Lockhart’s line involved again. After pulling the Torpedo defense out of shape, Spencer Foo’s pass across the front of the net found his brother Parker with an almost unguarded target to shoot at as he restored the Dragons’ lead.

Midway through the second period, Torpedo tied the scores when Dmitry Grents found a great shot from the center of the zone to beat Lazushin. Almost immediately, though, Red Star got a power play and steadily piled the pressure on to the opposition’s net. The breakthrough came when Tyler Wong found Alex Riche in front of the net and his pass set up Cory Kane for an angled shot past Vladislav Nurek.

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Penalties played their part in the next significant action. Two quick calls against Kunlun gave Torpedo a long 5-on-3 situation and, after ringing the iron with one shot, the Kazakh team tied it up through Ivan Kuchin. The Dragons then killed another minute at a one-man disadvantage, but almost immediately saw another player in the box when Colin Joe was called for holding.

Joe’s penalty carried into the third period with the teams deadlocked as they went into the final frame. But once Red Star killed the remaining seconds, the game turned in our favor. Brandon Yip restored the lead five minutes into the frame after Kane’s diagonal pass across center ice released our captain down the right-hand channel. Soon after, our guys were reduced to three skaters once more, but the crisis was eased when Grents fouled at the first face-off, introducing a period of 3-on-4 play – first in Torpedo’s favor, then in ours after another infringement from the opposition.

All those third-period penalties did little to help the momentum of the game and there were fewer chances in the closing stages. Spencer Foo went close, firing a shot against the post that almost bounced back into the net off the goalie’s pad, and in the last minute one more power play for Torpedo put a final piece of pressure on Lazushin’s net. However, our goalie got behind a Grents shot to secure the win in our first tournament game of the summer.

Head coach Ivano Zanatta

It’s part of the preparation. There were some good things, I thought we moved the puck well on our power play. But there are some things definitely to correct, especially those penalties. I think you could see that even if you’re playing with a good VHL team, if you give that many opportunities on the power play you’ll have difficulties. That’s definitely something we have to improve on.

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