Character earns its own rewards: Red Star recovers to post vital victory

Source: Club Press-Office



So much in sport depends on character. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team, but when the pressure is on and results aren’t coming, that’s when the real competitors step up and show what they are made of. And today’s performance, overcoming a two-goal deficit on the night and shrugging aside the burden of some poor form since Christmas, bore the mark of genuine winners.

It’s no secret that recent weeks had been a big disappointment for Kunlun. Just one victory in six games, and no regulation-time triumph since Barys was crushed 5-1 here in Beijing exactly one month earlier. It was a sequence of tight losses that eroded our advantage over our immediate rivals for a playoff place, putting the team in a position where it needed to renew those battling qualities and start picking up the points that could prolong our first-ever KHL campaign.

It’s not been easy for our fans either. It takes loyalty to keep coming back with hope and belief in your team. Yet the 4,750 who arrived at the Lesports Center to watch Thursday’s game with Jokerit was, by any measure, a decent attendance. For comparison, take a look at CSKA Moscow’s game the previous evening, which attracted fewer than half as many supporters to watch a team currently in second place in the KHL table. In a city still building its hockey heritage, Kunlun’s support is already noteworthy.

Those Red Star fans had to wait once again, but on this occasion their patience was richly rewarded. Even when the team trailed 0-2 early in the second period – goals from Roopa Talaja and Brian O’Neill doing the damage – the crowd got behind the team. That enthusiasm transmitted itself onto the ice, and the game began to change.

First, a short-handed goal. Sean Collins fed Chad Rau, and our leading scorer did the business yet again to pot his 18th of an impressive debut season in the KHL. Back to full strength, and Martin Bakos stuffed the puck home on the wraparound. 2-2, and the game was only just past the halfway point. The momentum had swung, and suddenly it was Jokerit’s turn to look anxious.

The third period was magnificent, perhaps the most satisfying 20 minutes of hockey we have seen in Beijing thus far. Having cleared the pathway towards victory in the middle stanza, our guys took the opportunity to lead a triumphal procession to the winning line. A power play goal from Damien Fleury put Red Star 3-2 up in the 42nd minute, the Frenchman getting the tip on Tommi Taimi’s shot from the point. Next, Tomas Marcinko made it 4-2.

Fleury was involved again, chasing down a lost cause in the corner and forcing the error from a Finnish D-man before feeding Bakos. The forward shaped to shoot, but instead slipped a pass to Marcinko who fired past the wrong-footed Ryan Zapolski. It got even better: Tobias Viklund made it five with a shot from the deep that rattled the underside of the crossbar while Fleury threw up the screens in front of the goalie.

Three goals in five-and-a-half minutes put the game out of reach: a pivotal passage of play in this fixture and, potentially, the rest of our season. Reconnecting with that winning feeling, rebuilding an advantage over our playoff rivals, transforming the atmosphere around the club in a few short moments. Character, eventually, earns its own rewards, and not even a late consolation goal for Jokerit’s Ville Lajunen could change that. Instead, the last word went to our own Tomi Sallinen, who completed the victory with an empty-netter.

Three valuable points lift Kunlun up to seventh place, leapfrogging Admiral, which lost at home to Dinamo Riga earlier on Thursday. More importantly, the gap to ninth place increases: three points currently separate us from the chasing pack. And, most important of all, Red Star is back to winning ways as the season enters its decisive phase.