Red Star wins but settles for third-place playoff

14 August 2021

Kunlun Red Star 2 Saryarka Karaganda 0 (0-0, 1-0, 1-0)

The Dragons finished the group stage in Nur-Sultan with a game against Kazakh champion Saryarka. Against expectations, the Karaganda-based team went into the game on top of the table, thanks to victories over domestic rival Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk and our KHL rival Barys. For our guys, a win was imperative to secure a place in the tournament final on Sunday. A three-goal margin would guarantee a top-two finish, a tighter victory would leave us to wait on the outcome of the Barys – Torpedo clash on Saturday evening.

Head coach Ivano Zanatta made a couple of changes to the team that played the first two games. Ethan Werek was listed as 13th forward, making his first appearance of the summer. He replaced Zach Yuen. Jeremy Smith took over from Alexander Lazushin in goal.

Smith celebrated his return to action with a shut-out and early in the game both goalies were on top. The first period was goalless, but Red Star got in front at the start of the second with a power play goal. This was one of those satisfying combinations drawn straight from the coach’s play book and executed to perfection: Josh Nicholls found Luke Lockhart in the corner; Lockhart picked out Spencer Foo between the hashmarks and he had space to shoot past Demid Yeremeyev in the Saryarka net to open the scoring.

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It wasn’t exactly plain sailing after the Dragons took the lead. Saryarka was eager to finish this stage of the tournament with a perfect record and worked hard to get back into the game. Smith was repeatedly tested and for long periods our offense found it difficult to generate much in the way of clear-cut chances. But one thing that typically separates teams in the KHL from opposition at VHL level is the ability to make the most of whatever emerges. And, midway through the third period, that kind of clinical hockey delivered a second, killer goal. The Foo brothers combined to double the lead, with Spencer finding space at the top of the circle to fire in a dangerous pass for Parker to steer beyond Yeremeyev. Over the course of this tournament, the boys have shown a great mutual understanding, contributing to several of our goals in Nur-Sultan.

However, there wasn’t enough to find a third goal and book that place in the final. A 2-0 win left everything up for grabs in the late game. Torpedo could not prevent Barys from winning 4-2, so the host team will meet Saryarka tomorrow to decide the winner of the President of Kazakhstan Cup. Our guys will take on Torpedo in the third-place playoff.

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