1 December 2021 recap, SKSO, Vanke Rays, WHL
KRS Vanke Rays 2 SKSO Yekaterinburg 1 (0-1, 0-0, 2-0)
The first day of winter heralds the Rays final WHL fixtures of 2021 – and the first of two meetings with SKSO proved to be a hard-fought affair that ended with a narrow win thanks to two goals early in the third period.
The week began with news of another player returning to the Dragons’ Lair. Xin He, 25, played with Vanke Rays in its first season of CWHL action back in 2017/18. In that campaign the left-sided forward scored once in 28 appearances. It’s worth remembering, of course, that the young Chinese players on that roster in North America were given relatively minor roles as the team looked to make an immediate impact at the highest level. He has also featured regularly in international play, captaining China’s U18s in 2014 and wearing the ‘A’ in the country’s most recent World Championship campaign in the pre-COVID 2018/19 season.
Our new addition is looking for a chance to crack China’s Olympic roster and will be working hard to impress Brian Idalski during the upcoming break in advance of the Games. Before that, though, the Lady Dragons face their final two WHL games of 2021 as SKSO comes to Mytishchi. He was not in the line-up for today’s match-up as Idalski continued with the team that took a 1-0 verdict against Chelyabinsk last time out. The only change came between the piping, with Tia Chan replacing Yuqing Wang.
Our recent trips to SKSO gave us a good idea of what to expect here. For many seasons, the Yekaterinburg team has struggled in this league but the 2021/22 edition is a much tougher prospect. Inspired by rock solid goaltending from Irina Kostina, these girls are proving a tough nut to crack as the WHL gets ever more competitive.
And it was Kostina who made the difference for long stretches of this game, performing superbly once again to frustrate our offense. In this instance, the stats don’t lie: in the first two periods, KRS had 62 attempts on goal, 30 of them on target, but could not score. Good goaltending, well-drilled defense and, on one occasion, a video review, kept the visitor ahead thanks to a first-period power play goal from Anna Timofeyeva. She struck during a 5-on-3 advantage midway through that opening frame; subsequently our girls largely cleaned up their game and there were few PP chances for SKSO to exploit in the remaining 50 minutes.
Early in the second period, the Rays got a power play chance of their own. Over the course of the season, our conversion rate on these has been unimpressive, so it was particularly satisfying to see a flurry of shots at Kostina culminate in a Qinan Zhao effort that beat the visiting goalie as she sprawled across the crease. However, in the midst of the action, Kostina was impeded after stopping an attempt from Leah Lum. The challenge came in from the SKSO bench and, after a review, the goal was chalked off. For the rest of the middle frame, KRS dominated but was unable to find an equalizer.
That all changed at the start of the final frame. In the second minute, Maddie Woo finally found the keys to Kostina. She picked up the loose puck after Leah Lum miscued and turned away from her defender to fire a low shot into the far corner. It wasn’t long before the Dragons had the lead, with Rachel Llanes taking Anna Segedi’s pass from behind the net and flicking a delicious backhand to the top shelf. That second goal all stemmed from our offense’s persistence: it all started with a 3-on-2 rush 25 seconds earlier, with Camryn Wong’s shot blocked by Kostina. However, our forwards would not allow the goalie to settle, stealing the puck away and recycling the play until we could create the necessary shooting chance.
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