Path to the Cup: Kunlun Red Star

 

With the goal of a podium result at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the Kunlun Red Star were introduced to the CWHL this offseason as a means to help better the countries national team players and grow the game of women’s hockey throughout the entirety of the host country. Selected to guide the expansion franchise was two-time Clarkson Cup winning head coach Digit Murphy, who returned after a departure from hockey in 2014 to face the challenge head-on. Assembling a team with an array of hockey ambassadors including international heritage veterans Jessica Wong and Melanie Jue, free agent signing Kelli Stack, and 2017 CWHL Draft picks Noora Raty and Zoe Hickel, Murphy has utilized the high-caliber players to help build the burgeoning Chinese talent.

Growing pains were evident in the early going as the Red Star opened the season with a 3-4 record after the first seven games of 2017-18. Hickel went into the record books as Kunlun’s first ever goal-scorer, notching her first career CWHL goal in the team’s franchise opener versus the Markham Thunder, their 2018 Clarkson Cup counterparts.

Dropping their first series in Markham, the Red Star picked up their first franchise win the following week, defeating the Calgary Inferno by a final of 4-3 in overtime. In that game, Hongxin Yan and Zhixin Liu became the first Chinese-born players to record a point in the CWHL with an assist on the opening goal of the game. Raty was also spectacular making 39 saves for the first of 16 wins this season.

The following weekend another first was achieved as goaltender Yuqing Wang recorded the first win by a Chinese-born player with a 23 save effort at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

From there, the Red Star became a permanent fixture atop the CWHL standings, recording the longest winning streak in the CWHL this season with 15 straight victories. During this stretch, national team captain Baiwei Yu became the first Chinese-born player to record a goal in the CWHL, while Angela James Bowl winner Stack recorded the second-longest scoring streak this season posting 32 points (15 G, 17 A) over 14 games.

Battling for playoff positioning down the stretch, the Red Star streak was ended right before the CWHL’s Olympic Break, falling 3-2 in a shootout to the visiting Calgary Inferno. After the break, Kunlun ended the regular season going 4-1, finishing second in the standings, with their lone loss during the playoff push coming at the hands of their Chinese contemporary, Vanke Rays.

Matching up with the team who ended their incredible regular season winning streak, the Red Star battled the Inferno through a thrilling three-game playoff series in Markham, Ont. After dropping the opening contest at the Angus Glen Community Centre, Kunlun rebounded with a hard-fought 3-2 overtime victory to force a third game. With both teams running on fumes, an amazing 66 save triple overtime performance from Raty allowed the Red Star to endure, as 2017 CWHL Draft pick and mid-season returnee Alex Carpenter booked the teams ticket to the Clarkson Cup with the series-winning goal after 114 minutes of play.

The expansion Kunlun Red Star will now look for their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history. Taking place at Ricoh Coliseum in downtown Toronto, puck drop for the Clarkson Cup on Sunday, March 25 is set for 12 p.m. The game can also be seen live on Sportsnet or the SN NOW app.

Purchase tickets for the 2018 Clarkson Cup Weekend including the 2018 CWHL Awards Show and the Clarkson Cup Final by visiting thecwhl.com/clarksoncup.

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