New season, new heroes

Source: Club Press-Office


HC Sochi 2 Kunlun Red Star 4

It’s been a big summer for hockey in Beijing. Since the 2016-17 campaign came to an end with a brave playoff loss against Metallurg Magnitogorsk, much has changed around the club. The arrival of head coach Mike Keenan, a true legend of world hockey, raised the bar for the team and increased expectations around the club. On the playing side, it’s been something of a whirlwind as almost an entire new roster was assembled for the upcoming campaign. Exciting times, maybe even anxious times, but above all a time for anticipation.

The waiting ended today in the summery climes of Sochi. Our team began its KHL season beside the Black Sea … and started with an emphatic and encouraging victory. Sochi, like Red Star, rang the changes over the summer. A new head coach here, too, and changes to the playing staff. But from the start it looked like our guys had settled faster into their new environment.

Just five minutes in, Kunlun took the lead. Brandon Yip, a summer signing from the German League and evidence of the club’s commitment to developing players with Chinese roots, opened the scoring on a power play. Yip, born in British Colombia but with Chinese ancestry, is a veteran of 174 NHL games for Colorado, Nashville and Phoenix before he moved to Europe in time to help Adler Mannheim win the German title. At 32, he’s got the experience to add some real pep to the Kunlun offense this season.

In the second period, both teams seemed to find life easier on the PK. First, Sochi tied the game with a short-handed goal from Ryan Garbutt. But Red Star responded in kind through new signing Mattias Myttynen, who produced a fine piece of larceny to snaffle the puck away from Garbutt on the blue line and burst forward to beat Konstantin Barulin with a neat finish.

Things got even better for our guys late in the stanza when Kyle Chipchura, a summer signing from Slovan Bratislava, added a third goal – this time with the teams at equal strength. Then came a second for Myttynen, making it 4-1 early in the third. The Finn was making his first ever KHL appearance; his goal, a good finish from the deep slot off Greg Squires pass into open ice, chased away goalie Konstantin Barulin in his 457th appearance in this league. The Tappara native has played his entire career to date in Finland and Sweden, but on this evidence, he has what it takes to succeed at KHL level.

Sochi produced a late goal from Casey Wellman, reducing the deficit but failing to impact on the outcome of the game. Kunlun fully deserved its win, and can take confidence from the way it tackled this opening meeting of the new season. Next up, it’s off to Kazan on Thursday for a clash with Ak Bars: Mike Keenan against Zinetula Bilyaletdinov in a battle between two of the most experienced and most titled coaches in the competition.