It’s hockey night in China and we couldn’t be more excited! China’s only team in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Kunlun Red Star, are set to hit the ice this evening in Shenzhen in their season opener against Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Going into their fourth season in the league, after debuting in the 2016-17 season, Kunlun Red Star are – technically speaking – based in Beijing, although the team has done prolonged stints in other Chinese cities. The team played the first couple months of the 2018-19 season in Shanghai, and is expected to hit the ice at least six times in Shenzhen from this afternoon until September 15, when they host Traktor Chelyabinsk.
After September 15, the team begins an away stint which will wrap up on October 5 in Vladivostok. Kunlun Red Star will play their first match in Beijing on October 9 against Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
Image via Kunlun Red Star/Facebook
Curt Fraser is behind the Kunlun bench on head coaching duties this season, after replacing Jussi Tapola midway through the 2018-19 season. Previously, Fraser served as the head of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets), as well as assistant coach for the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. During his career as a player, he reached the 1982 Stanley Cup Finals with the Vancouver Canucks.
When asked which Red Star players to keep an eye on this year, Mark Simon, Canadian hockey ambassador and occasional consultant for the Kunlun Red Star, had this to say: “Spencer Foo and Tyler Wong are the two heritage players of note. Foo played four games with the [Calgary] Flames last year, while Wong was in the Vegas [Knights] system.” (Heritage players are Red Star players team members with at least 25% Chinese ancestry, according to Simon.) Simon noted that other players to watch include Jake Chelios, Trevor Murphy and Mathew Maione.
Paris O’Brien. Image via Kunlun Red Star h/t Mark Simon
While he won’t be in action tonight, Simon was particularly excited about prospect goalie Paris O’Brien, who hails from Vancouver, BC. He is currently playing on the Red Star’s farm team in the Supreme Hockey League (VHL).
“He is young, talented and has a lot of potential,” said Simon. “In the recent tournament they had in Beijing last month, he stole a couple games on his own.”
Notable returning players this year include Captain Brandon Yip, Cory Kane and Victor Bartley.
After missing the playoffs last year, the big question on everyone’s lips is: Can we expect a Kunlun Red Star playoff push in 2020? According to Simon, the team has a good chance of making a playoff appearance, due to Scotty MacPherson taking on a more involved role as general manager and the NHL-level coaching staff.
The KHL, considered by many to be the world’s second-best hockey league, officially began its 2019-2020 season on September 1 with a 3-1 win by Avangard Omsk over CSKA Moscow.
[Cover image via Kunlun Red Star/Facebook]