3 December 2021
Kunlun Red Star 2 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 1
It was time to make some changes. After just one win in the previous eight games, Thursday’s match-up against Neftekhimik saw several new faces on the Red Star roster. And the revised line-up delivered, with the Dragons posting a second win of the season over Neftekhimik.
The list of debutants starts with goalie Paris O’Brien. This 21-year-old Canadian born heritage player has been part of the KRS system for some time, working his way through junior and VHL hockey within our club. This season he has found himself as understudy goalie on seven occasions and today was his first time on the ice in a KHL game.
He wasn’t the only new face. On offense, the Dragons handed debuts to Zhong Wei and Xiang Xudong, who joined the second and third lines respectively. Continuing the theme of handing opportunities to home-grown talent, our first line included 21-year-old Harbin native Guo Jianing. His second outing in the KHL had him on the same line as his boyhood idol Brandon Yip. On the fourth line, meanwhile, defenseman Chen Zimeng (24) took his bow. Fourth-line forwards Zhang Zesen and Yan Juncheng were playing their sixth and seventh games of the season respectively, while Rudi Ying, a virtual old-timer in this company, completed a line-up with a strong homegrown emphasis.
O’Brien was pressed into action almost immediately, having to deal with a dangerous Neftekhimik attack in the opening seconds. That gave the youngster confidence and he continued to look assured throughout a goalless first period where Neftekhimik had the edge but struggled to create genuine chances.
And O’Brien wasn’t the only player making a tangible contribution. Xiang grabbed an assist as Red Star opened the scoring in the second period, playing his part in a move that finished with Ryan Sproul converting a Spencer Foo pass. Our new look was looking good.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Neftekhimik tied it up in the second period on a goal from Ronald Knot and thought it had the lead when a Sergei Kuptsov effort almost got through O’Brien. The visitor celebrated a goal, but the video review showed that the puck did not fully cross the line. Close, but no cigar.
The Dragons took full advantage of that reprieve, regaining the lead late in the middle frame on the power play. Tyler Wong got his 10th of the season with a billiard play that ricocheted off the skates of two defensemen and left visiting goalie Alexander Sudnitsin bewildered. Maybe a new look is bringing a welcome change of fortune: so often, we’ve seen chances like that squirt to safety this season.
Up by a goal, Red Star had to weather a storm in the final frame. As the clock ticked down, Neftekhimik grew ever more desperate for a tying goal and, at times, there was intense pressure on O’Brien. But the youngster was unfazed by the efforts expended around him and finished the game with 37 saves to record a debut victory in the KHL.