3 September 2021
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 5 Kunlun Red Star 1
The opening game of the season is always an exciting time. This season, for Red Star, it was more exciting than usual. A good part of our team had been waiting a long time to get back on the ice, having spent the previous year inactive – or with limited ice time – due to the pandemic.
Our first KHL line-up under new head coach Ivano Zanatta had a fourth line comprising players – Rudi Ying, Sam Hu, Zach Yuen and Yan Ruinan – who were out of action last season. Elsewhere on the roster, Colin Joe and Greg Squires were inactive all year while Alex Riche played just four games. So, there was no shortage of enthusiasm to get back into action.
And, early in the game, that saw the Dragons take the initiative. Our guys enjoyed more puck possession and slightly outshot Neftekhimik. It was altogether a sharper, more competitive performance than in our recent pre-season games here.
But, late in the first, it all started to go wrong. Giving up the opening goal of the game in the 16th minute was a blow. However, the knock-on effects of Alexei Puzanov’s opener were calamitous. A couple of minutes later, Jake Chelios was contentiously ejected from the game after a clash with Pavel Poryadin. In the Dragons’ camp there was a strong feeling that Chelios was merely sticking up for his team-mate after the home forward laid a heavy hit on Tyler Wong. A couple of weeks ago, there was applause for Poryadin after his game-winning hat-trick in a friendly encounter; today there was nothing friendly about this incident, and the outcome was almost as costly for our guys.
The major penalty took its toll, and just before the intermission home captain Marat Khairullin extended Neftekhimik’s lead. Then came another penalty, this time on Vic Bartley. As a result, we began the second period trying to kill two minutes of 3-on-5, and duly lost a third goal of the evening. The home power play was red hot, and when Ethan Werek became the latest player into the box midway through the period, Neftekhimik had the puck in the net once again from a Ronald Knot point shot. This time, though, a bench challenge saw the play whistled off for interference on goalie Jeremy Smith and the score remained at 3-0. A small victory, but one we badly needed to change the pattern of the game.
Certainly, after that there were encouraging signs. Neftekhimik was unable to add to its score until late in the game – there were 37 blank minutes between the home team’s third and fourth goals, and the final scoreline was given a flattering gloss by our efforts to chase the game. And those efforts brought some reward via a combination that brought us success last season, with Tyler Wong setting up Spencer Foo for a goal in the 56th minute. It wasn’t enough to change the outcome here, but it adds to the progress and confidence on this team.