Continuing the experiment

22 August 2021

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 7 Kunlun Red Star 1

The Dragons’ second game in Nizhnekamsk brought a continuation of our on-going ‘baptism’ of Chinese players at KHL level. After Friday’s game featured a raft of homegrown players, many of whom were playing their first ever game against opposition of this standard, Sunday’s rematch featured even more. Every Chinese skater available for selection was involved here, with only injured forward Zhang Zesen missing out.

And, proof of the Dragons’ lure, goalie Han Pengfei returned to action. The 30-year-old is coming out of retirement to play this season and made his first appearance in the pro game here. He was named as starter and played the first period – a valuable taste of the rigors of KHL play. His figures, 15 saves from 18 shots, were also respectable enough for a debut.

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There was rotation, of course. Few of the Chinese heritage players who featured on Friday were involved again, with Vic Bartley and Colin Joe the only exceptions. At present we don’t have so many defensive options, so they were back in action again. Two of our most experienced forwards, Tyler Wong and Brandon Yip, combined for Red Star’s only goal at the start of the third period.

The game also saw Alexander Lazushin – back at the club for a third spell – get 40 minutes in goal. In the circumstances, with an experimental line-up in front of him, Lazer was in for a busy afternoon and the final shot count of 48-15 told its own story.

But it’s only pre-season, and results mean nothing at this stage. The most important detail is getting vital game experience into our players and broadening the base of Chinese talent available to us. That’s been the defining process of our pre-season and will continue in the coming week as we take part in the Mayor of Moscow Cup. On Aug. 26, we face Spartak and the following day Vityaz – not for the first time this summer – provides the opposition. The tournament will finish with a classification game against an opponent from the other three-team group, which comprises CSKA, Dynamo and Amur.

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