15 August 2021
Kunlun Red Star 2 Torpedo Ust-Kamengorsk 1
The Dragons finished their stay in Kazakhstan on a winning note, defeating Torpedo for the second time this week to secure third place in the President of Kazakhstan Cup. It completes a week of four games – and three wins – as our pre-season preparations pick up pace.
It was also the first opportunity for head coach Ivano Zanatta to work with his players after he joined up with the guys prior to our departure for Nur-Sultan. And the incoming boss was happy with much of what he saw during what is still very much a work in progress.
“It’s a good tournament for us,” Zanatta said after the win over Torpedo. “We had some good things. We’re slowly piecing together our game and our game plan, so it’s very positive.”
Another positive came from seeing new names on the scoresheet. In particular, Alex Riche continued his encouraging form in pre-season with an assist as Ryan Sproul opened the scoring on the breakaway in the 18th minute. Riche has had a tough time since signing for Red Star two summers ago: injuries, and the side-effects of the pandemic, limited his opportunities to impress. This month, though, he’s enjoyed a run of games and is steadily chipping in with points. The 25-year-old is in his third season with the club, but in this condition he looks like a new signing for us.
Josh Nicholls, too, has looked strong in pre-season. Like Alex, he has spent some time with our club but had little opportunity to impress in the KHL, making 20 appearances in three seasons. Again, though, Josh has made a steady contribution throughout pre-season and today brought two more assists for his tally. His play on the second goal was especially notable, showing great vision to pick out Cory Kane unmarked at the far post and send an inch-perfect feed that invited a devastating one-timer into the net as the game reached the midway stage.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Jeremy Smith had another busy game, making 36 saves to keep Torpedo at bay. He was beaten just once, in 3-on-5 situation in the third, but secured his second ‘W’ in two days.
In the final moments of the game, tempers boiled over. A foul on Parker Foo prompted a massed brawl that filled the penalty boxes for the last action of our tournament. It might not have fit in with the idea of a friendly exhibition tournament, but it spoke to the team spirit among our guys.
“I’m not a promoter of that type of hockey,” admitted Zanatta afterwards. “But I’m a firm believer in a team. If someone attacks, and I think this all stared from a hit from behind on Parker Foo, you defend your team-mate.
“This team has to stick together. I’m not big on the fighting but it’s part of the game, it happens, and it’s important that we stick together.”
With the start of the season little over two weeks away, that unity is sure to stand the Dragons in good stead when the action starts for real in September.