21 December 2021
Kunlun Red Star 3 Salavat Yulaev Ufa 4 OT
A brave defensive effort – and some well-taken goals – earned the Dragons a point at home to high-flying Salavat Yulaev. Forward Spencer Foo scored twice, taking his all-time tally for the club to 30 and setting a new personal best of 13 in a season. Hopefully there’s plenty more to come in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
This was the club’s first game since releasing a handful of players as we rationalized our roster to move closer to the Chinese Olympic roster for the upcoming Games. However, that did not result in wholesale changes to the team on the ice for Monday’s action. Goalie Jeremy Smith returned in place of Han Pengfei, Mikhail Abramov came into the second line and pushed Zhang Zesen to the fourth. Zhang Cheng also returned for his second KHL appearance after debuting against Metallurg in December.
Over the weekend, many of our opponents had been busy at the Channel 1 Cup – as indeed had our young goalie Paris O’Brien, who was invited to join Team Canada’s early practices in Moscow due to the late arrival of one of the team’s selected netminders. That meant there was no place in Monday’s line-up for Finnish internationals Markus Granlund and Sakari Manninen after their trophy-winning exertions for the Leijonat. However, there was room for Alexander Kadeikin to continue after his efforts for Team Russia and, after the Red Machine’s frustrating overtime loss on Sunday he vented some of his frustrations on us.
Kadeikin opened the scoring midway through the first period and it was hard to argue that the lead was not deserved. Ufa was a potent offensive force throughout the game and Smith faced 15 shots in that opening session, with nine more blocked by our hard-working D-core. At the other end, we mustered just six tests for Juha Metsola, but Spencer Foo proved that quality means more than quantity when he tied it up with five to play in the first. The Dragons refused to let Salavat out of its zone and Spencer used Luke Lockhart’s movement as a handy decoy, pulling the defense out of position and enabling him to slide a low shot inside Metsola’s near post.
That was Spencer’s 12th of the season, and #13 wasn’t long in coming. Once again, it was a tying goal after Andrei Zubarev restored the visitor’s lead. This time, though, we were level within a minute thanks to a power play snipe from the left-hand circle. But the pattern of play was not much changed: Salavat continued to dominate the game, Smith continued to live up to his billing as the hardest working man in hockey and, unfortunately, the pressure told in the 28th minute as Kadeikin potted his second.
However, throughout the season, we’ve talked a lot about the resilience in this team. Once again, we saw plenty of it in this game. Despite struggling to create chances, nobody shirked his duties at either end of the ice. That meant the game stayed alive, when it would have been easy for heads to drop and the scoreline to pile up against us. And it meant that when we found moments of quality in the Ufa zone, we could tie the game. Jason Fram did exactly that early in the third, producing a terrific piece of DIY. His initial shot was blocked right back to him, so Jason responded by circumnavigating the Salavat zone before finding a shooting lane that was open all the way to the top corner.
That was enough to force overtime, although our defense had plenty more questions to answer from a determined visiting forward line before we could get that point over the line. But even when defending a 3-on-5 situation for 1:56 after Ty Schultz and Ryan Sproul shot the puck off the ice on successive shifts, our Dragons held firm. In the extras, Sproul had a great chance to win it, but Metsola came up big to deny his solo rush. And the last word went to Philip Larsen, who potted the winner after exchanging passes with Nikolai Kulemin.