The final warm-up: Dragons in battle for Moscow

26 August 2022

The wait is almost over. The new KHL season starts next week and on Friday we’ll get a first good look at Greg Ireland’s Dragons in the 2022 Mayor of Moscow Cup.

So far, Red Star played just one warm-up game, defeating Vityaz 4-1. Now the guys are getting ready for three games in three days, taking on Spartak and Vityaz in the group stage, then playing a classification game on Sunday against one of Dynamo Moscow, CSKA or Amur.

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What to expect

This week, head coach Ireland gave his first full interview since taking on the KRS job. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, but the watchwords throughout were ‘work ethic’, ‘commitment’, ‘team’, ‘honesty’ and ‘trust’. It’s a cast-iron coaching philosophy that has served Greg well throughout a long career working in a lot of leagues.

It’s clear that our new head coach understands the job at hand. After last season’s disappointing KHL campaign, there is a need to build on the strengths of our core players while adding experienced reinforcements. We’ve had a busy summer in the transfer market, creating a team that combines the ‘zero quit’ mentality we saw in Beijing at the Olympics with fresh players who bring new qualities.

Change and continuity

Jeremy Smith was the first player to sign up for the Dragons in 2022/23 and he’ll play a key role between the piping once again. Hugely popular and endlessly reliable, Smitty has proven his ability to keep our team in games under intense pressure. After a draining workload last season, though, he’ll benefit from the support provided by summer signing Matt Jurusik. Matt, 25, earned rave reviews for his time at Michigan Tech and has since played AHL with the Stars and the Penguins. He made an impressive debut in that warm-up game against Vityaz and will be hoping to stake a claim for Smith’s starter status. Youngster Paris O’Brien, 22, is also back at the club after making his KHL debut last season and getting a chance to play at the Olympics.

Rebuilding the ‘D’

Last season’s big problems came on defense. The Dragons allowed 198 goals in 48 games, far more than any other team in the competition. It wasn’t unusual to see the opposition fire in 40+ shots in a game, and there was every reason to describe goalie Jeremy Smith as the hardest working man in hockey as he battled to keep us competitive in games.

To address this, we’ve changed it up at the back. The 2022/23 roster has some serious experience on defense. Vincent LoVerde has been a leader at every club in his career, Zac Leslie and Doyle Somerby bring extensive know-how from the AHL and beyond, while Kyle Wood already has a taste of European hockey in Germany and Czechia and is ready to move up a level in the KHL.

We also have promising youngsters. Liam Ross is only 21 but he arrives from Sudbury Wolves with a ringing endorsement from the OHL team. He was their captain last season and is noted for maturity beyond his years. Plus, as a Chinese heritage player, he has the potential to develop into a part of the national team program for years to come. Dmitry Kostenko, 19, joins us on loan from Spartak where he spent most of last season in the VHL. He was drafted by Montreal in the third round in 2021 and broke into Russia’s junior roster last term. He’s definitely one to watch for the future.

In addition, Jake Chelios and Jason Fram return from last season, with Denis Osipov currently on a try-out contract.

Familiar forwards

Last season’s offense performed creditably in difficult circumstances. As alluded to above, the Dragons spent a lot of time without the puck last year, making it hard for our forwards to generate the kind of scoring chances they’d like. Even so, KRS outscored Admiral, Amur and Dinamo Riga in the regular season, posting 101 goals in total.

Spencer Foo’s role in all that was a springboard that took him back to the NHL. Foozy hit the jackpot when he signed a deal with Vegas and we’ll be looking forward to following his progress as a Golden Knight this season. Many of last season’s forwards are back again this time, with Brandon Yip signing on for another four (count ‘em!) years and staking his claim to be the foundation stone of the entire franchise. He’s joined by fellow long service contenders Luke Lockhart and Cory Kane, with Ethan Werek also back in the Dragons’ Lair. Spencer’s younger brother Parker is still with us, and Cliff Pu, who showed flashes of what he can offer after arriving last season, is back for the full term this time.

The big new addition to our forward line is big right wing Jack Rodewald. The 28-year-old Canadian has spent the last two seasons in Europe, playing for Ocelari in Czechia and TPS in Finland. He helped win the Czech championship and went to the Finnish final last season before losing out to a Tappara team led by our former head coach Jussi Tapola. His career to date suggests that Rodewald is a more than adequate replacement for Foo.

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