26 February 2023
HC Sochi 5 Kunlun Red Star 3
The final game of the season brought another defeat for the Dragons, but after a disappointing first period there were plenty of positives to take from the rest of the afternoon. Our last action of 2022/23 saw Zac Leslie add another point to his record tally for a defenseman: his assist in the third period moves him to 39 (8+31) points.
It’s worth mentioning that, prior to this season, Zac’s 39 points would have been equal second for points in a season from any position. Since then, though, Brandon Yip raised the bar with 42 (21+21) this term. Yipper couldn’t add to his tally today, but there were further goals for Colin Campbell and Tomas Jurco, both of whom joined our journey partway through the season.
Unfortunately, that was all a bit too late. This game was almost won and lost in the first three minutes. Sochi suffered a miserable season, but finished strongly. Today was the Leopards’ third win in four games and they took that confidence into the opening exchanges here. Artur Tyanulin opened the scoring after 35 seconds, then Matvei Michkov delivered a ‘Michigan’ lacrosse-style goal to double the lead on 2:55. Greg Ireland immediately called a time-out, and it’s unlikely that he wanted to spend that time admiring the youngster’s audacious finish.
Briefly, things improved. The Dragons killed a penalty and then pulled a goal back when Colin Campbell profited from a mix-up between home goalie Mikhail Berdin and one of his defensive colleagues. Alex Riche snaffled the loose puck and set up Campbell for his fifth goal since joining the club in December.
However, Sochi was in fine form. Tyanulin got his second of the game midway through the first period, then assisted as Amir Gareyev made it 4-1 just before the intermission. In between, Guo Jianing picked up a major penalty for fighting with Vadim Kudako; the Sochi man was unable to continue in the opening frame as our 22-year-old forward auditioned for Garet Hunt’s enforcer role.
That opening frame demanded changes, and goalie Sun Zehao made way for Matt Jurusik. These last few weeks have been a steep learning curve for Sun, and we’re hoping to see the benefit of that when he represents China in World Championship play in April. Matt, meanwhile, put up plentiful resistance in the second period, making 12 saves. However, he was unable to prevent Tyanulin completing his hat-trick.
Down 1-5 at the second intermission, it was important that our guys did not let the game – and the season – finish on a sour note. That was clearly the message from the coaching staff, and it got through to the players.
The Dragons flew out at the start of the session, grabbing two goals in 45 seconds. First came Leslie’s 39th point of the season, flying into the corner before getting the puck back to Jack Rodewald on the slot for 2-5. Next, Riche had his second helper of the game exchanging passes with Tomas Jurco before the Slovak found the net. Now it was Sochi’s turn to worry. The home team called a time-out, desperate to calm their players.
The game remained tight until the final stages, but when Jurco took a penalty in the 58th minute, Red Star’s hopes of an unlikely comeback came to an end. The season is over for the men’s team, but our women continue in their playoffs. The Lady Dragons start with a best-of-three series against Dynamo Neva next week.