26 December 2021
The Dragons’ 2021 program ends on the road with a mini-tour of the Baltic. First up, it’s a trip to Riga where the Western Conference’s basement team awaits. Then it’s on to Helsinki, where Jokerit is challenging for top spot in the West.
Dinamo Riga (Dec. 26)
Last time out: Back in September we had a goal feast against Dinamo in Mytishchi, losing out to the odd goal in 11. Jake Chelios and Brandon Yip both had two-point games that day.
Familiar faces: Hunter Shinkaruk, who holds the record for Red Star’s longest productive streak, joined Dinamo in the summer. Last season he had 30 points for the Dragons, this term he’s managed 13 (5+8) so far in Latvia. Fellow forward Gunars Skvorcovs played 16 games for Red Star in 2019/20 and the early stages of last season. He’s now back with Riga, where he has played the bulk of his career.
Background: Riga’s season began promisingly enough under Sergei Zubov. The Russian coach, renowned for a distinguished playing career in North America, had the Latvians firmly in the mix for a playoff place. However, he stepped down on Oct. 21 and has since taken charge of Russia’s juniors. Valerijs Kulibaba served as interim head coach for just over a month, and in that time the team’s form slipped. By the time veteran Vladimir Krikunov took charge on Nov. 30, Dinamo was struggling at the foot of the Western Conference.
Goalscoring is a problem. With 78 goals in 40 games, Dinamo has the least potent offense in the West and only Admiral is less prolific in the entire KHL. None of the team’s forwards has been consistent, although Nikolajs Jelisejevs has an eye-catching 11 goals in 24 appearances to give the 27-year-old the best goal-per-game ratio on the team. Player turnover is also high, with 22 forwards deployed this season already. A recent trade saw goalie Johan Mattsson leave the club and join …; Julius Hudacek is now looking to assert himself as number one.
Jokerit Helsinki (Dec. 28)
Last time out: As with Dinamo, Jokerit grabbed a 6-5 victory in Mytishchi back in September. However, 2021 also saw the Dragons win in Finland for the first time – a 5-4 overtime verdict in February on Ivan Nikolishin’s goal. A repeat of that in our final game of the calendar year would certainly kickstart the New Year celebrations.
Familiar faces: Experienced forward Veli-Matti Savinainen is in his third season with Jokerit after playing for KRS in 2018/19. He had 18 (9+9) points in that campaign.
Background: For much of this season, Lauri Marjamaki’s team has been setting the pace in the West. Lately, though, results have hit a downturn. The last five games brought three losses, bookended by overtime wins at Severstal and at home to Dinamo Minsk. That run saw Kristjan Kombe make his debut and the 21-year-old forward become the first Estonian player to score for the Finnish team.
When Jokerit is on song, Brian O’Neill is usually heavily involved. The playmaker is dubbed ‘Mr. Helsinki’ after five campaigns here so far, and this season his 31 assists are helping him keep up point-a-game form. Danish marksman Nicklas Jensen is the goalscoring leader with 15.