15 September 2022
After a tough road trip, it’s back home to Mytishchi for three games against opposition from the Western Conference. And that means our first action against our new conference rivals, following the Dragons’ summer transfer from East to West. First up comes Sochi, a team against whom we have a good record. Then, though, it’s a very different challenge with games against CSKA and SKA, two of the strongest teams in the league.
HC Sochi (Sep. 16, 1900 Moscow time)
Last season: The Dragons enjoyed two victories in two games against the Leopards last season. In September we rallied from 0-2 to secure a shoot-out win on home ice, with Josh Nicholls getting the decider. Then in November we visited the Black Sea and claimed a 3-1 success on goals from Tyler Wong, Spencer Foo and Ryan Sproul.
Familiar faces: Forward Mikhail Abramov, 23, has enjoyed a lot of hockey in China over the years. Having played for KRS Heilongjiang in Juniors, KRS-ORG and ORG in VHL he finally reached the top level. Last season he scored 6 (3+3) points in 21 games for the Dragons in KHL and was close to represent China at home Olympics but was ruled out in the last minute due to Covid.
Background: Historically, we’ve enjoyed our meetings with Sochi. Since Kunlun joined the league, we’ve had a winning record against this opponent, coming out on top eight times in 12 encounters. The Leopards are another favorite team from Brandon Yip, who has 7 (3+4) points in four games against the Black Sea boys, while Ethan Werek has 4 (2+2) in his career. Interestingly, two of Sochi’s leading scorers on us, Sean Collins and Casey Wellman, both played for Red Star as well. Neither of them will be involved this time as we meet as Western Conference rivals for the first time. It’s also a clash of two teams looking to climb the table. At the time of writing, we are a point ahead of Sochi following a win and a shoot-out loss. The Leopards have a solitary success against Barys. Both teams have generally struggled for goals, although that 6-3 triumph over the Kazakhs proves that Sochi has some firepower at its disposal.
CSKA Moscow (Sep. 20, 1900 Moscow time)
Last season: CSKA went on to win last season’s Gagarin Cup, but Sergei Fedorov’s men could not win in Mytishchi. A Cory Kane goal three minutes from time secured a memorable 2-1 success for the Dragons back in October, avenging a 1-4 loss a few days earlier in Moscow. That was only the second time Kunlun beat CSKA in KHL action.
Familiar faces: None
Background: History is very much against us in this game, with CSKA enjoying the kind of record you’d expect from one of the winningest teams in hockey history. On the face of it, little has changed at the defending champion over the summer, with transfer activity kept to a minimum and head coach Fedorov remaining behind the bench. However, the start of the new season has not been entirely convincing. A big win in the Opening Cup suggested it might be business as usual; heavy losses to Ak Bars and Severstal told a different story. It’s possible that the loss of experienced heads like Sergei Andronov and Alexander Popov is affecting the team, while the goaltending is weakened by Ivan Fedotov’s departure. While there is still enough quality on this roster to test any team, CSKA looks more vulnerable than usual right now – something our guys can try to exploit next week.
SKA St. Petersburg (Sep. 22, 1900 Moscow time)
Last season: It was hard work against SKA last season, with a 0-7 loss in Petersburg followed by a 1-5 reverse on home ice.
Familiar faces: None, although former Dragon Ruslan Pedan’s brother Andrei plays on defense for SKA.
Background: SKA is, at the time of writing, the only undefeated team this season. Roman Rotenberg led his players to victory in their first six games of the campaign, although there have been some hard-fought battles along the way. Rotenberg himself is an intriguing character, promoted to the head coach’s role midway through last season to the surprise of many who questioned his hockey resume. So far, though, he’s shown every sign of maintaining SKA’s accustomed standards: there’s no shame in losing a seven-game Conference final and Petersburg remains strong in regular season play. The big dangerman in recent weeks has been Marat Khairullin. The former Neftekhimik forward is settling in well at his new club, and a recent four-game scoring streak yielded 9 (7+2) points to keep SKA marching on.