13 July 2023
KHL.ru continues its review of the 2022/23 season with a look at Kunlun Red Star’s campaign. Under head coach Greg Ireland the Chinese club made a step forward. The Dragons didn’t make the playoffs but enjoyed some memorable games and their captain set new records.
Although Kunlun once again fell short of a playoff spot, the Dragons still took a big step forward. Under Greg Ireland, they won 21 games – more than twice as many as last year and just one less than the combined total from the previous two campaigns.
However, Red Star was let down by frequent losses against direct rivals for a place in the top eight – particularly Vityaz and Severstal. However, they looked far more competitive against the big clubs: blanking Avangard and winning twice against CSKA and Lokomotiv.
In the event, Kunlun could have won even more games. However, once it became clear that the team was out of playoff contention, the management switched to development mode and called up players from China’s national team for game time after a long spell in the reserves. At times, the home-grown prospects flickered into life, but overall they were unable to seriously test the opposition.
21+21 in 59 games
Captain China is KRS’s star man. He’s still in great shape at the age of 38. In his 2022/23 campaign, Yip set club records for points in a single season (42) and scoring streak (9). He also produced the KHL’s best ever goal streak from a player aged over 37, overtaking the legendary Jaromir Jagr (6 games).
93.3% saves, 2.58 GAA and 4 shut-outs in 24 games
Kunlun’s goalie missed part of the season through injury but that did not prevent him from making an impact. Jurusik stood up well under great pressure, and the more shots he faced, the better he performed. His best month came in October, with big shut-outs against Spartak (37 saves) and Avangard (33), plus a shoot-out win over CSKA.
8+31 in 65 games
Zac Leslie’s first KHL season was a classic example of an attacking defenseman’s play. True, he posted a league-worst -34, but he still looked consistently impressive on offense, regularly picking up points. He finished among the eight leading scorers among D-men and was fifth on that list for assists.
Canada’s Greg Ireland took charge of Kunlun after moving from Italian hockey. At the Chinese club, he instilled a Canadian culture with an expressive Italian accent. “We battled, the team managed to get several great wins. Even when we lost, we tried not to give up. There were games that were decided by a single goal. We were really driven to be competitive in this league,” Ireland said after the season. Overall, under Ireland’s leadership, Red Star looked like a genuinely interesting proposition. However, after his contract expired on April 30 it is unclear whether he will return next term.
On Nov. 12, KRS had a high-scoring 7-4 win over Neftekhimik in Mytishchi. In the first period, the visitor piled on the pressure and scored two unanswered goals. After the intermission, the Dragons hit back hard to tie the game … then immediately allowed two more goals at the other end. However, the third period turned into an Eastern fairy tale for the Chinese team. Five goals without reply led to a memorable win. Yip scored a hat-trick, finding the net at equal strength, on the power play, and short-handed. Leslie (0+3) and Jack Rodewald (1+2) had three points apiece.
Kunlun made active use of the loan system last season. Lokomotiv’s Alexander Perevalov, 18 at the time, played 27 games for 3 (2+1) points. Spartak’s German Tochilkin had 6 (4+2) points in 21 appearances. Spartak also lent defenseman Dmitry Kostenko for the whole season (52 games, 2+2).
Among the team’s home-grown players, 22-year-old defenseman Yan Ruinan played 29 games (0+1). Guo Jianing, who turned 23 at the end of April, played 24 games. He didn’t pick up any points, but did get into a fight against Vadim Kudako in the final game of the season.
At present, Red Star has just 10 players under contract – goalie Jurusik, three defensemen, and six forwards, including captain Yip. There are no new arrivals yet, but this is nothing unusual. The KRS transfer policy tends to mean no official announcements of new signings or new contracts with last season’s Dragons will emerge until mid-August.