3 December 2021 recap, SKSO, Vanke Rays, WHL
KRS Vanke Rays 7 SKSO Yekaterinburg 1 (3-0, 3-1, 1-0)
What a difference a day can make. Yesterday, the Vanke Rays had to battle to the last to edge a one-goal verdict over SKSO. Twenty-four hours later, the same line-up took on the same opponent and powered to a 7-1 victory, close to the biggest win of the season to date.
What prompted the change? As always, there’s no one clear answer. In some respects, given the time that the Lady Dragons spent dominating yesterday’s game, there was little change here. The difference, it might be argued, lay in more clinical finishing and the inevitable difficulties the visiting defense faced in trying to repeat its Herculean effort of Wednesday afternoon.
Then there’s the psychological factor. It took just 13 seconds for Kassy Betinol to open the scoring today. Immediately, then, the balance of the game was transformed. Yesterday, SKSO came with a view to defend in depth and try to preserve its first-period lead for as long as possible. On Thursday’s first shift, Betinol charged into the SKSO zone before converting Anna Segedi’s pass from behind the net. The visitor’s game plan was in tatters, the aura of invincibility around Irina Kostina’s net evaporated. Reinforcing the point, KRS went on to score two quick goals midway through the opening frame. Betinol got her second of the game when a video review reversed an on-ice high sticking call then Zhixin Liu stepped up from defense to make it 3-0. At a similar stage on Wednesday, SKSO took the lead; today the opposition was visibly demoralized on the end of a three-goal deficit.
Physical fatigue also played a part. SKSO came here with just three attacking lines. As a result, of course, the team’s leaders had to eat up plenty of minutes – and often had to do so in the middle of the ugly business of chasing the puck as the Vanke Rays got its offense rolling. Tiredness, low morale and the simple superiority of our players all weighed against SKSO in this one and contributed to an emphatic win for the Dragons.
Another significant factor was the lack of home penalties. In this game, KRS had just six penalty minutes and minimized the chances for SKSO to build any pressure. Add disciplined, accurate play to the list of positives to take from our final WHL engagement of 2021.
To give SKSO credit, our guests did not give up without a fight. At the start of the second period Ekaterina Fedorkova pulled a goal back, but a meaningful comeback was too much to ask of her team. Liu got her second of the game – her first double in the WHL since Oct. 2019 – then Rachel Llanes added a fifth on the power play and, late in the middle stanza, Yingying Guan made it 6-1, potting her first goal of the season. The 26-year-old is in her first season with the Vanke Rays after playing a consistent role on China’s national teams in recent years. Like so many emerging players, she’s busily making up for lost time after the pandemic wiped out her prospects for play last term.
Indeed, one of the other encouraging notes from this game was the contribution of our Chinese-born players. Two goals from Liu, another from Guan, plus two helpers from Qinan Zhao, a talented blue liner steadily developing into a genuine two-way contributor with five points in her last seven appearances. As the team goes into an extended period of Olympic preparation, the sight of our homegrown talents rising to the challenge and matching our heritage girls is a huge lift for everyone.
The third period brought just one more goal, Maddie Woo scoring off a Leah Lum assist to wrap up a convincing victory. With the first phase of the WHL regular season at an end, the Rays are up to fourth in the standings – below our recent finishing positions, but indicative of steady progress over three months of learning and player development. Now we pause from league action to focus on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing and – hopefully – write a new chapter in the growth of hockey in China.
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