Heading east for a Latvian showdown

18 September 2023

After a frantic start to the season, the Dragons had a rest day of sorts. Unfortunately, the schedule demanded that we used that day to make our longest flight of the season – Moscow to Khabarovsk, just under eight hours in the air. While we’re in the Far East, our head coach Viktors Ignatjevs faces a match-up with his fellow Latvian Leonids Tambijevs at Admiral. Then, on the way home, we’ll call in at Togliatti to defend a 100% record against Lada in KHL play.

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Amur Khabarovsk (Sep. 19, 1200 Moscow Time)

Last season: It’s a while since the Dragons have beaten the Tigers. Amur won both of the teams’ meeting last term, and you have to go back to Dec. 2019 for our most recent success in Khabarovsk (a 3-2 win thanks to a double from Olli Palola).

Familiar faces: Powerfully-built defenseman Viktor Baldayev was one of the rare players who featured throughout the Dragons’ turbulent 2020/21 season. He played 49 games that term as a rugged, stay-at-home D-man and contributed six assists.

Background: Tuesday’s game is the home opener for the Tigers, who began their season with a long excursion around Russia. The road home brought a couple of notable wins: a 5-1 thrashing of Avangard and a shoot-out success at Sibir’s shiny new arena. In total, Amur won three out of six from a difficult start, a return that gives credence to the Tigers’ playoff ambitions.

Following the appointment of Andrei Martemyanov as head coach during the summer, Amur rebuilt the team. In total, 15 players left the club, and notable acquisitions included center Alex Broadhurst (Avangard) and Spartak’s captain Alexander Khokhlachyov. The latter has made an immediate impact with 5 (2+3) points in his last five games. Broadhurst, though, is on the injured list. Among the players who remain from last year, Slovenian forward Jan Drozg has a unique distinction. He was the only active KHL import to feature at last year’s World Championship (the other KHLers involved were with Kazakhstan, and mostly play for Barys in their homeland).

Admiral Vladivostok (Sep. 21, 1230 Moscow Time)

Last season: We opened our campaign last time with a 3-1 home win over the Sailors. Parker Foo, Kyle Wood and Cliff Pu were all on target in the second period. However, on the road we lost by the same margin the following week.

Familiar faces: Ivan Lisin made his KHL debut for Admiral in the 2019/20 season. In total he played 49 games in a bottom six role for the Sailors that year, producing three assists. He returned to the KHL with Kunlun in 2022 and scored his first goal for the club that season. In addition, Alexander Lazushin was at Admiral last season but is currently on the injured list for the Dragons.

Background: This is a clash of Latvian head coaches. Viktors Ignatjevs is up against his countryman, Leonids Tambijevs. As players, they were teammates way back in 1991/92 at Stars Riga and RASMS Riga in the final season of the Soviet championship; later, as coaches, they both worked within the Dinamo Riga organization at the same time, but on different teams.

Tambijevs led Admiral to its best-ever KHL season last term, winning a playoff series for the first time in the club’s history. He also landed the Sailors’ first-ever trophy in the summer when Admiral won the Sochi Hockey Open. Success saw some key players move on: productive defenseman Libor Sulak joined Avangard, while fellow imports Michal Kristof and Rudolf Cerveny also left the club. However, there was some astute recruitment as well: veteran blue-liner Maxim Chudinov brings a wealth of experience, while Canadian forward Tyler Graovac has seen it all in the KHL.

Securing the services of Nikita Serebryakov – the KHL’s goalie of the year last term – was a big boost for the club. And the emergence of 22-year-old Daniil Gutik is another story to watch. He’s been on the fringes of the KHL for a couple of years, but with 7 (3+4) points in his first six games this season, Gutik seems ready to announce himself as a big player at last.

Lada Togliatti (Sep. 23, 1600 Moscow Time)

Last season: In KHL play, the Dragons have a perfect record against Lada, winning all four match-ups. However, Lada’s absence from the big league since 2018 means our last competitive trip to Togliatti was back in 2017. On that occasion, Mike Keenan’s KRS won 2-0 on goals from Kyle Chipchura and Wojtek Wolski, plus 23 saves from Magnus Hellberg. More recent, and perhaps more relevant, Viktors Ignatjevs’ team won here in pre-season on the way to lifting the Lada Cup.

Familiar faces: Goalie Alexander Lazushin has not yet played for KRS this season after rejoining the Dragons in the summer. However, he was in goal for Lada on our previous KHL visit to Togliatti back in Sep. 2017.

Background: Lada hoped to make a splash on its return to the KHL after a five-year absence. With Oleg Bratash providing ample experience behind the bench, the club recruited astutely through the summer. However, the start to the season has been uneven. Injuries have hit the offense, with Mikhail Fisenko, Sergei Shumakov, Artym Ivanyuzhenkov and Nikita Popugayev currently unavailable. Results, too, did not come immediately. Lada lost its first three at home before rebounding to thump Amur 5-1. On the road, things were better: three games in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk (twice) produced two wins and an OT loss.

The team’s imports are already delivering. Troy Josephs and Scott Kosmachuk are new to the KHL, but settled in fast. Josephs has six goals already and is pushing Nikolai Goldobin in the scoring race. Kosmachuk is providing much of the ammo, with five assists so far, while well-known Russian playmaker Dmitry Kugryshev has six helpers.

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