Chinese hockey with a Finnish accent

Source: Club Press-Office



Finland is a country that plays a big part in the Kunlun story. Our team first iced here, at a summer training camp in the northern village of Vierumaki. Our head coach, Vladimir Yurzinov, began his career in the Land of 1,000 Lakes, taking Ilves Tampere to the SM-Liiga Grand Final in 1998 before moving back to Russia in the early 2000s. And there are plenty of Finnish players on the roster, including captain Janne Jalasvaara.

So, a trip to Helsinki to play Jokerit, historically one of the biggest clubs in Finnish hockey, was always going to be a bit special. For several players, it was a brief trip back home. For Yurzinov, it was another battle with a team he had encountered many teams in Liiga action. And for Jokerit’s fans it was a chance to see a unique blend of the familiar and the utterly new.

As if that wasn’t enough of a back story, both teams are battling hard for the playoff places. Jokerit, after two seasons riding high in the Western Conference, is in something of a transition, with the result that the team is scrapping around the middle of the conference table. Kunlun, as a rookie team, does not bear the same weight of expectation as its long-established Finnish rival … but having proved it is capable of competing at this level, there is every bit as much determination to ensure a place in the Eastern Conference playoffs come the end of February.

Not surprisingly, both teams looked to create chances to win this one and generated an entertaining, open game of hockey. And Kunlun will feel that on another day it might have completed this brief tour of Europe with a third successive victory to match its results in Riga and Minsk this week. Jokerit’s power play ultimately made the difference, with the Finns managing to solve Red Star’s resilient PK. Charles Genoway got the assist both times as first Peter Regin then Pekka Jormakka found the net.

In between those two, Jalasvaara got Kunlun back on level terms, again on a power play. Chad Rau, Kunlun’s in-form forward, added to his four goals in Minsk and Riga with an assist here. His shot from the left channel was deflected goalwards by Jalasvaara to make it 1-1. Red Star’s second of the night also came from a Finn as Tuukka Mantyla collected Oleg Yashin’s pass from behind the net and fired through a screen to beat Ryan Zapolski.

By then, though it was too late. Sakari Salminen had already scored a third for Jokerit, and that proved decisive. Our team fought bravely to the last, but was ultimately left ruing the narrowest of margins that ruled out a goal from Martin Bakos that would have made it 2-1 in the second the period. The Slovakian forward had Zapolski at full stretch to stop a powerful shot from a tight angle; the officials needed the video to confirm that the goalie had done enough to stop the shot.

In all, though, a gruelling trip to the North-western corner of the KHL world proved more than encouraging. Big, gritty wins against the Dinamos of Latvia and Belarus confirmed that this team is well capable of challenging for a playoff spot, while a battling loss in Helsinki is no disgrace.

We are next in action on Tuesday in Shanghai, with Avangard visiting at the start of a three-game run at home. Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Sibir, one of our closest rivals for a playoff place, also visit next week.