18 March 2023
The Dragons’ 2022/23 campaign fell short of the playoffs. However, there were some big highlights along the way as our guys produced a clutch of individual and team achievements. Let’s take a look at some of the best of them.
The headline-grabbing performances came from Brandon Yip and Zac Leslie, both of whom set individual scoring records for a single season. Yip consolidated his position as our club’s all-time leading scorer with 42 (21+21) points, beating the previous record of 40 set by Chad Rau in 2016/17. And don’t assume that was just down to playing a longer season this time: Yipper played 59 games against 60 for Chad in our debut campaign. On defense, Leslie had 39 (8+31) points in his first KHL season. That’s the best-ever return for a blue-liner and ties for third in the Dragons’ history with Sean Collins’ haul in our inaugural campaign.
Among Brandon’s scoring feats, he managed to wrest some KHL records away from the legendary Jaromir Jagr. The ageless Czech star played for Avangard from 2008-11 and established several records for veteran players aged 37 and over. This season, Yipper took some of those honors. On Oct. 16 his goal late in our loss against Severstal extended his scoring streak to six games, overtaking Jagr’s mark of five. That formed part of an eight-game productive streak. Later in the campaign, Yip hit a hat-trick in a 7-4 win against Neftekhimik, becoming the first over-37 player to do that since Oct. 2009 when Jagr scored three on Barys.
Although many of our club records currently belong to Brandon Yip, our captain does not hold the all-time appearance record. Luke Lockhart reached a new level this season when he played his 300th game for the club. He’s the first man to reach that landmark, which came on Jan. 17. Unfortunately, that game ended in a 0-3 loss to Lokomotiv; game 301 was much more fun as we beat Sochi 5-1 with Luke among the scorers. By the end of the season, Lockhart had 311 games. His 83 (39+44) points place him fifth in KRS all-time scoring.
Throughout Red Star’s history, Yaroslavl had been an impregnable fortress. The historic city beside the Volga had been the scene of loss after loss for the visiting Dragons. That all changed this season, with KRS winning not one, but two games at Lokomotiv. First came a shoot-out success in November. Red Star led twice on power-play goals from Alex Riche and Tyler Wong but needed the extras to finish the job. Josh Nicholls got the winner, while Alexei Murygin made 33 saves on an emotional return to one of his former clubs.
And there was more to come. On Dec. 8 we returned to Yaroslavl and claimed a real ‘backs-to-the-wall’ success. Matt Jurusik made 47 saves to frustrate the home offense. At the other end, Jack Rodewald took his chance on the power play late in the first period and that was enough for a 1-0 win. The Lokomotiv hoodoo is well and truly broken.
Lokomotiv’s Arena 2000 was not the only venue where we enjoyed our first-ever win. October’s trip to Omsk saw Kunlun make a first-ever visit to Avangard’s new home. When we say new, we mean you could still smell the fresh paint on the concourse: the arena hosted its first KHL game against Sibir just a couple of days before. Avangard edged a tight victory on its opening night, but the team was not exactly firing under head coach Dmitry Ryabykin. So, the Dragons brought the heat and scorched to a 4-0 road win. Matt Jurusik stopped 33 saves for his first KHL shut-out, Ethan Werek scored what proved to be his last goal for the team and there were also goals for Parker Foo, Devin Brosseau, and, of course, Brandon Yip. Thus, the Dragons go into the record books as the first visiting team to win at the new G-Drive Arena. The result had big consequences for Avangard: the following day, Ryabykin parted company with the team.
Defending champion CSKA is another team that typically gives us problems. That’s hardly surprising: the Muscovites are part of Russia’s hockey elite, with a budget, academy, and tradition that dwarfs the resources available to our guys. Nonetheless, this season we managed to punch above our weight in games with the defending champion.
The Dragons defeated CSKA twice. September’s overtime win, sealed by Zac Leslie’s goal 10 seconds into the extras, was pretty special. But the next encounter, on Oct. 1, was unforgettable. Down 1-4 at the second intermission, it seemed unlikely that Red Star could save this one. But nobody told Alex Perevalov. The youngster, on loan to us from Lokomotiv, had not previously scored in the KHL. That day he grabbed two in the last five minutes against one of the best teams in the league. That forced overtime, where the Dragons defended against four skaters for more than four minutes without yielding. Finally, a shoot-out. When Perevalov came to take his shot at Adam Reideborn, a goal would win us the game. He produced a nerveless finish to write another great story.
A big part of the plan for the season, particularly in the latter stages, was to prepare for Team China’s upcoming World Championship Division IB campaign in Tallinn, Estonia. That meant ensuring that our home-grown guys got some valuable ice time to develop their skills. After all, the KHL is likely a tougher environment than an international tournament where few opponents will boast significant experience at this level. That process saw goalie Sun Zehao make his first KHL starts. The 27-year-old Harbin native previously had a taste of this league back in 2019, when he came off the bench to make his KHL debut. Back then, he was the first Chinese-born goalie to play in the league. His first start, on Feb. 16 at Vityaz, saw him join Han Pengfei among the native Chinese netminders to start in the KHL. Han went on to join Team China at the Olympics; Sunny will be hoping to play an active role in the country’s attempts to qualify for the Games in 2026.
In a similar vein, three Chinese-born players got their first KHL points. Forward Zhang Zesen, 26, was a regular this season. He got his first goal in December, converting the rebound from a Ryan Sproul shot to score on regular-season champion SKA during a pulsating 3-3 tie in Mytishchi. Later in the season, he produced a memorable assist, surging forward before creating a cheeky no-look feed for Devin Brosseau to open the scoring in a 5-1 win over Sochi.
Zhang was not alone in opening his KHL account. Defensemen Chen Zimeng and Yan Ruinan both got their first points in the league. Chen, 25, had a helper on Dmitry Kostenko’s goal in a 3-6 loss against SKA in September, while 22-year-old Yan combined with Cory Kane as Tyler Wong opened the scoring in our 3-2 win at Severstal on Feb. 7.
Oct. 11 saw the Dragons power to a 5-0 win at Barys. That was the biggest victory of the season and the biggest road win in our history. It also matched our previous biggest winning margin of 5-0 at home to Medvescak Zagreb in January 2017. An impressive display brought goals from Yip and Leslie, as well as contributions from Jack Rodewald, Cory Kane, and Vince LoVerde. The latter potted his first KHL goal to complete the scoring. At the other end, Jeremy Smith said ‘hold my beer!’ and posted his first shut-out of the season just two days after Matt Jurusik did the same thing in Omsk.
It wasn’t quite our biggest margin of victory, but Red Star’s 7-4 success at home to Neftekhimik on Nov. 12 was only the second time our guys scored seven in a single game. It won’t surprise anyone that Yipper had a hat-trick, nor that Zac Leslie made two assists. However, this game was memorable for two big fightbacks from our guys. Red Star trailed 0-2 inside 15 minutes, battled back to 2-2, then slipped to 2-4 by the end of the second period. The final stanza, though, was imposing: five unanswered goals and Ryan Sproul making it 7-4 on 59:56. That previous 7-4 game in 2018? Surprise, surprise, Yipper was among the goals then as well, helping us rally from 1-3 to defeat Sibir.