Overcoming the monster – after completing the quest, Kunlun prepares for a great battle
Source: Club Press-Office
Kunlun’s first season has had many of the qualities of a modern-day epic. A disparate band, thrown together by fate? Check. A difficult quest through distant lands? Check. Battling the odds against fearsome foes? Check. Depending on your literary tastes, you could draw parallels with anything from Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings to Ruslan & Lyudmila (and a combination of the North American George Martin, Russia’s beloved Pushkin and the Nordic-influenced Tolkien echo some of the key themes of our international brigade this season).
Into the playoffs, though, the narrative changes. They say there are only seven stories in all of world literature, and after completing the quest Kunlun’s next task is changed. Having gone out into the world in search of knowledge and glory, the next step is to defend our dreams against the most powerful of opponents – and Metallurg Magnitogorsk is arguably the biggest beast in the KHL.
With two Gagarin Cups in three seasons, a record-breaking forward and a roster that exudes a quiet, reliable stability, the team from the South Urals deserves every respect. Even the disruption of head coach Ilya Vorobyov going to the World Cup at the start of the season could not prevent the team easing to the top of the Eastern Conference table; no frantic race to the finish line here, Magnitka had top spot sewn up with weeks to spare. The first meeting between the teams, in Shanghai back in October, was a steep learning curve as Sergei Mozyakin inspired Metallurg to an emphatic 5-1 win.
But if Metallurg are the sorcerers of the KHL, Kunlun are willing apprentices. Six weeks later, in Magnitogorsk, we were already better prepared for this level of hockey and handed the defending champion a real battle. Far from outclassed, Red Star lost out to a 44th-minute goal, with Danis Zaripov’s late power play marker finally seeing Metallurg over the line.
That experience gives us hope that we can put up a real fight against the odds, and when we bring the playoffs to Beijing next week our fans can look forward to a terrific exhibition of the game at its best. Forward Alexei Ponikarovsky is hoping that we can also get a big crowd to witness the show. “I can’t guarantee that we’ll sell out our arena, but I know we will be playing to win this,” he told Championat.com after the team clinched its playoff place on Saturday. “We’ll throw all our strength into making sure that we are worthy opponents for Metallurg.
“We know we have a tough opponent so we have to play smart hockey. We can’t give away cheap penalties, and obviously we can’t give an inch to Sergei Mozyakin and his partners.”
Sean Collins is also looking forward to the challenge ahead. “For the last 10 games we’ve all been thinking about the playoffs,” he said . “It’s really big for Kunlun, and for China, that we’ve made the playoffs and we’ve done it in the club’s first year.
“But now we understand that there’s a big job ahead. Metallurg has some great players, some of the best in the league. It’s a powerful, well-balanced team.”
The next chapter in the Kunlun story starts tomorrow in Magnitogorsk before the grand home-coming in Beijing on Sunday. Don’t miss out as the epic unfolds.