Debut for Campbell ends in narrow defeat

3 January 2023

Vityaz Moscow Region 2 Kunlun Red Star 1 (1-0, 1-0, 0-1)

The first game of the new year saw Red Star suffer a narrow loss at the hands of playoff chasing Vityaz. In an encounter where goalies Jeremy Smith and Maxim Dorozhko dominated, the Dragons were undone by a goal early in the first and another late in the second. Cliff Pu’s power play effort at the start of the third inspired hopes of a fightback, but the tying goal stubbornly refused to materialize.

The result deals a blow to Kunlun’s playoff hopes, leaving our guys 10 points adrift of the top eight, and 14 behind Vityaz, which climbs to sixth. However, with 21 games left in the regular season, there is still time to claw back that deficit.

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For the first game of 2023, the Dragons handed a debut to new signing Colin Campbell. The Canadian forward, a Calder Cup winner with Grand Rapids in 2017, joined Kunlun in late December after putting up 25 (11+14) points in 23 games for Kosice in the Slovak championship. Previously, the 31-year-old had several seasons in the AHL and also played in Austria and Germany. Today, he fit into the third line alongside Cliff Pu and Tyler Wong.

Greg Ireland also welcomed Jack Rodewald, Kyle Wood and Cory Kane back to the team for the short trip to Balashikha, while on-loan German Tochilkin made his second appearance for the team.

The New Year got off to a frustrating start when Vityaz opened the scoring in the fourth minute. A bad bounce for our defense helped Kirill Rasskazov find the opening. There was more bad news to come: on the PK a couple of minutes later, Zac Leslie was hurt by an opponent’s skate. The collision was accidental, but our D-man had to head back to the locker room for treatment and could not return until the second period.

By the start of the middle frame, KRS had begun to play itself into the game a bit more. There were presentable chances for Cory Kane, Brandon Yip and Zhang Zesen in the opening session. Early in the second, Red Star had more good chances and really should have tied the game. Campbell went close to a debut goal, Yipper uncharacteristically missed the target with the net at his mercy and young Tolchilkin sounded the alarms in the home defense after stripping an opponent of the puck and testing Dorozhko.

Unfortunately, it’s in the nature of hockey to punish teams for missed chances. If anybody deserved a second-period goal, he was surely wearing a white jersey. However, in the final seconds, Vityaz doubled its lead with a power play tally from Dmitry Kugryshev.

A two-goal deficit demanded a rapid response and in the third period our PP delivered exactly that. It wasn’t the most elegant play you’ll see: a scramble around the face-off dot before the puck dropped to Pu. However, there was nothing wrong with Cliff’s finish, instinctively sniping a wrister over Dorozhko’s shoulder to put us right back in the game.

The rest of the game was an even battle. Smitty pulled off some huge saves to keep the Dragons in contention, notably denying Rasskazov a second of the evening before making an inspired double stop. However, at the other end Dorozhko was equal to everything our guys could create and steered his team to a narrow victory.

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