See you in 2022!

29 December 2021

Jokerit Helsinki 7 Kunlun Red Star 1

This was Kunlun’s final game of 2021, another difficult year for our club as our exile in Russia continues. What should have been a campaign spent putting the finishing touches to China’s Olympic team has, instead, proved to be another battle for survival. In the circumstances, results often take second place to the need to give experience to China’s homegrown hockey talent – a group of players whose development has been badly hit by the past two years of pandemic-related restrictions.

Last night, once again, we found ourselves dealing with coronavirus regulations in a deserted Hartwall Arena. As recently as Sunday, Jokerit welcomed more than 4,000 spectators to its home venue. Today, the attendance was zero. Revised COVID protocols were responsible for the tumbleweed in the tribunes: as the omicron variant pushes up infection rates, the Finnish authorities are returning to lockdown.

Into that eerie atmosphere, the Dragons sent a largely unchanged team from the one that lost so narrowly in Riga two days earlier. The only alterations came on the fourth line, where Zhong Wei and Guo Jianing replaced Zhang Zesen and Yan Juncheng. Jeremy Smith continued between the Red Star piping. For the opposition, our former forward Veli-Matti Savinainen was making his 300th KHL appearance while Anders Lindback was back in goal after injury.

Jokerit had something to prove after its previous game ended in a 1-5 loss here against Avangard. And it took just two minutes for the home team to make the breakthrough when Philip Holm’s point evaded Smith and found the far corner. Smitty was in for another busy period, facing 15 shots in total and making good saves to deny captain Marko Anttila and fit again Alex Grant.

Red Star struggled to generate much offense early on, but after Jesse Joensuu took a penalty late in the frame there were some stirrings from our forwards. Tyler Wong had our best look of the opening frame, testing Lindback with a dangerous wrister as the intermission approached and pointing the way towards better things as the game progressed.

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Unfortunately, that path hit a roadblock early in the second period when Nicklas Jensen rifled home a second goal and by the time Teemu Turunen made it 3-0 in the 28th minute we were heading down a cul-de-sac. Ethan Werek attempted a U-turn, firing home from the right-hand circle after Alex Riche forced an offensive zone turnover. That’s back-to-back goals for Ethan, but Holm soon potted his second of the game and Kalle Kosilla added a fifth late in the middle stanza.

The final frame brought a well-taken goal for Jensen and the Danish international finished off his day by completing a hat-trick in the last minute as the Dragons ended 2021 on a sorry note. Here’s hoping for happier times in 2022 as we look forward to playing seven of our next eight on home ice before pausing our KHL campaign for the Beijing Winter Olympics.

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