27 December 2021
Dinamo Riga 3 Kunlun Red Star 2 SO
The Dragons were just eight seconds away from snapping an eight-game losing streak. Sadly, though, Dinamo’s last-gasp goal snatched victory from our grasp and our trip to Latvia ended in a shoot-out loss.
Red Star made minimal changes to the roster for this one. Jake Chelios moved up to the first defensive pair alongside Ryan Sproul, and that prompted a reshuffle down the lines as Colin Joe joined Jason Fram on the third and Yan Ruinan took over as seventh D-man. In goal, Jeremy Smith was back as starter in place of Paris O’Brien.
One of the nice things about visiting Riga is the chance to catch up with our old friend Hunter Shinkaruk. This time, it was even nicer: after two minutes, Hunter took a penalty and gave us the chance to get a foothold in the game. Naturally, we didn’t want to torment an old friend by scoring when he couldn’t do anything to help his new colleagues; instead we waited until Shinkaruk was back in play before Tyler Wong fired home from the left-hand circle. With a lead to defend, our guys rallied: tight defensive play made it hard for Riga to find a way through our armor; attacking options were infrequent but did enough to keep Julius Hudacek alert in the home net.
After a strong first period, the Dragons found things harder after the intermission. Dinamo raised its game and began to pose more problems for our defense. Encouragingly, the team responded to the challenge with great discipline: after 40 minutes’ play, our guys were still yet to visit the penalty box. And, as we’ve seen throughout the season, we have a team that can compete hard in 5-on-5 play but sometimes struggles to cope when the penalty minutes tot up. Discipline is something we’ve been working on and it was good to see that effort rewarded in Riga.
That discipline proved more than just an end unto itself: in the final minute of the frame Sproul produced a fantastic long pass, splitting the home defense and sending Ethan Werek clean through on Hudacek. Ethan got into position, waited for the goalie to go down, and then unleashed a shot to the top corner to double the lead.
However, all that good work was almost undone at the start of the third. Parker Foo’s foul coincided with a too many men call against us, and we faced two full minutes playing two men short. In the circumstances, losing a face-off to Martins Karsums was a big problem, and Nikolajs Jelisejevs made us pay when he cruised into space in front of the net and shot past Smith. Our goalie had to leave the ice at this point to fix a problem with his helmet, giving O’Brien a few unscheduled seconds of action to kill the remainder of the penalty before our starter could return to the fray.
There were times in the third period when our guys produced some classy hockey. Midway through the session, our first line put together some lovely tic-tac-toe stuff, culminating in Parker Foo’s shot into Hudacek’s pads. Increasingly, though, Dinamo was setting the tempo as it looked for a way back into the game. It was time for some resolute defending as the home team piled forward. The shot count read 23-3 in Riga’s favor – yet another busy game for Smitty, as our goalies stopped 50 shots between them – yet the Dragons held firm … until the final moments. With just eight seconds left, Karsums screened Smith’s view of the action and that enabled Reece Scarlett to squeeze his shot through the tightest of lanes and inside the far post. Salvation for Dinamo, despair for Red Star.
Ivano Zanatta had to work fast to pick up the team and get everyone ready for overtime. And, to the guys’ credit, the extras saw Red Star going all out for the win. Unfortunately, not even a power play for Kunlun could tip the scales back into our favor and, come the shoot-out, we were unable to beat Hudacek. Jeliseyevs claimed the decider and, once again, a brave effort came up just short.