Makarov, Mantyla and Kunlun’s winning start

Source: Club Press-Office



Turning a new page in the history books demands a certain ceremony. For a newly-created team, playing its first ever competitive game, classical narrative pretty much insists on a dramatic start. Ask Hollywood – the stunt sequence to open every Bond movie, the chase scene that kicks off an action movie. Deliver a hook in the first scene and the audience will stay for what follows.

So perhaps it was destiny that took Kunlun’s KHL debut to the last minute before delivering a winner. The game away to Amur Khabarovsk – itself a symbolic location in a Russian city on the Chinese border – was an absorbing battle, but needed that moment of decisive drama to get the public crying out for more.

And so it came. Kunlun’s early lead, established by Sean Collins in the first period, was wiped out by a power play goal from Kristian Kuusela as the game moved into the last two minutes. Were we to face the nerve-jangling suspense of overtime? Was a day that dawned brightly to end in a disappointment all the more bitter for having led for so long?

And then came Tuukka Mantyla. The Finnish defenseman had already written himself into the club’s history by scoring Kunlun’s first ever goal, in an exhibition game back on August 2, and now stepped up from the blue line to smash home the first game-winning goal in our first game. And all with just 56 seconds left to play. Deflation turned to delight, anxiety to ecstasy on a single slap shot.

Mantyla was not the only hero. Goalie Andrei Makarov, aged 23, made an assured debut with 32 saves to confound Amur. Collins was on the spot to score Red Star’s first ever goal on 14 minutes, getting into position on the slot to convert a power play after Martin Bakos and Tomas Marcinko swung the puck powerfully around Amur’s zone. The home team feared goalie Juha Metsola was impeded; the video officials had no such concerns.

The dawn of a new era of hockey in the Orient is also set to transform the game’s potential in China. A big part of that, of course, is giving experience to Chinese talent. Defenseman Zach Yuen and forwards Rudi Ying and Xia Tianxiang shared the honor of being the first of their countrymen to get on the ice in the KHL. Yuen even had a short spell centring the third line as Marcinko recovered from a blow to his knee; with Kunlun still short-benched, head coach Vladimir Yurzinov needs his players to fill in wherever necessary.

And that was the coach’s message after the game. Satisfaction at the win, of course, but especially at the way the team rose to the challenge of its debut game.

“We scored a good goal, we took our chance on the power play well,” he said. “But even though we spent most of the rest of the game playing defensively, we showed great discipline. Today we played as a team, and that’s the most important thing.”

So the opening credits of Kunlun’s KHL history have rolled, and the action began with a bang. But the script demands a fast-paced storyline and the next major milestone is just four days away when we head to Beijing for our first ever home game. Admiral Vladivostok is the first team to voyage into China, and it promises to be quite an occasion at the LeSport Arena.