Golden Dragons

12 August 2023

Kunlun Red Star 6 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk 1

Two games played, two games won – and a trophy secured. The Dragons’ perfect start to pre-season means our guys have already clinched the Lada Cup. There’s still a game to go, but regardless of Sunday’s result against Khimik, nobody can catch Kunlun here.

It’s a step up from our previous visit to this pre-season event, when the class of 2016/17 finished as runner-up to Avtomobilist. That season, of course, we went on to make the playoffs in our KHL rookie year. It’s far too early to make bold predictions about what we’ll be doing in March and April 2024, but nobody can fault what we’ve seen so far.

Encouragingly, from the point of view of a playoff push, our wins in Togliatti both came against teams who are likely to be in that same battle for a top-eight finish (albeit in the eastern conference, while we play in the west). Last season, one of our more frustrating habits was pulling off big, unexpected wins against the top clubs but dropping vital games against our immediate rivals. While we’re looking at a desperately small sample size here, back-to-back successes can only be viewed as a promising step in the right direction.

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There’s more encouragement from the scoring form of Devin Brosseau. He’s back on the team for a second season, and he’s enjoying the added responsibility of life on the top line. Today he scored twice in a crazy first-period salvo. That moves him to three goals in two games and offers evidence of a valuable new offensive weapon for our team.

Brosseau’s double strike came in the space of 75 seconds. It completed a sequence of four goals in 3:20 and put Red Star in total control of the game midway through the first period. Cliff Pu, who wore the ‘C’ today as Brandon Yip was rested (at age 38, back-to-back games are more draining than usual), opened the scoring after seven lively minutes, with Tyler Wong and Spencer Foo assisting. Seconds later, Wong had another helper as triallist Ivan Lisin found the net. Then came that pair from Brosseau, both assisted by Colin Campbell.

To nobody’s surprise, Neftekhimik replaced starting goalie Emil Garipov and sent out Yaroslav Ozolin for the rest of the game. And, to the Wolves’ credit, they never gave up. At times in the second period, they asked some big questions of our defense, but goalie Alexander Lazushin had the answers. Ozolin fended off our forwards for a time but was beaten by Foo midway through the second session. Foo, back with us after a season in the AHL, seems to be right back in the groove as well with points in both games so far.

Lazushin had hopes of a shut-out but was robbed of that in the third when Neftekhimik managed a consolation goal. That was the only disappointment on the day, though, and Cliff Pu had the final say when he scored his second of the night to make it 6-1.

Later, Lada’s win over Khimik ensured that the trophy was ours and tomorrow we take to the ice as champions-elect. It’s still only August, but the Dragons already have a taste for victory.

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Kunlun Red Star