5 February 2023
Kunlun Red Star 1 Ak Bars Kazan 5
The regular season is drawing to a close and the Dragons’ playoff hopes are merely theoretical. Therefore, it’s time to look to one of our club’s other primary objectives: developing China’s national team.
Team China faces a big challenge in April when it travels to Estonia to contest IIHF Division IB against the host, plus teams from Ukraine, Japan, Serbia and the Netherlands. Gold would bring promotion to Division IA, the second tier of international hockey just one promotion away from meeting the big boys at the top table.
Now’s the time to start preparing for that trip, and KRS is playing its part. For the remaining KHL games, we’ll be using more players who are eligible to represent China in international play and, in particular, we’ll be encouraging more home-grown guys to take their chance at this level as they look to get up to speed for the Tallinn tourney.
That meant there was action for defenseman Yan Ruinan, forwards Zhang Zesen, Chen Zimeng and Guo Jianing, plus back-up goalie Sun Zehao.
And it was something of a daunting occasion for these players, more usually on the fringes of our team. After all, tonight’s game brought a visit from the form team of 2023, an Ak Bars roster that has moved from obscurity to the summit of the Eastern Conference on the back of a blistering run under head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.
Despite all that, the Dragons showed no fear in the early exchanges. Brandon Yip twice tested Timur Bilyalov in the visitor’s net early in the game. Then Bilyalov produced a fine double save to deny Tomas Jurco and Parker Foo on the doorstep. However, when Josh Nicholls took the first penalty of the day, Ak Bars took advantage to open the scoring through Alexander Radulov. Ilya Safonov quickly doubled the lead and another PP tally, this time from Dmitry Voronkov gave Ak Bars a somewhat flattering 3-0 lead at the first intermission.
If Bilyalov was the goalie getting the attention in the first period, our own Matt Jurusik showed what he was all about in the second with a couple of big pad saves to deny the marauding Artyom Lukoyanov. An unfortunately bounce then gifted Kirill Semyonov a fourth goal for Kazan before Red Star got on the board – and in some style.
German Tochilkin was the scorer, jumping on the puck in center ice and hitting the turbos. He blasted between two opposing players as if they weren’t even there before scoring on Bilyalov with an emphatic finish. Is it too late to find this Orsk native a Chinese passport?
That made it 1-4 at the second intermission, a deficit too great to make a fightback seem realistic. Even so, the goal that went to Kirill Petrov early in the third was tough to take. Not long after that, Sun took over in goal from Jurusik. It’s important game time for this Harbin native, who will likely be understudy for Shimisi Jieriumi (Jeremy Smith to you and me) on international duty in the spring. Sun, once again, let nobody down with a solid show in the closing stages. He didn’t allow any further goals in a game that Ak Bars won 5-1.