Aivis Kalnins Aivis Kalnins
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Dinamo Riga finished off their previous season missing the playoffs yet again continuing the long drought, while Lokomotiv showed their strength qualifying for the second round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs where they eventually were disarmed by CSKA in a seven-game battle. Since then both teams have addressed their needs and contributed to making key changes to their rosters.

Andrei Skabelka and his side said goodbye to Anton Lander, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Vladimir Tkachyov during the off-season. Sure that’s an impressive trio of players to lose for any team however, Lokomotiv then went on to add Gagarin Cup champion Reid Boucher who came over from Avangard, CSKA’s Max Shalunov who has been a treat for many years and Alexander Yelesin has returned home after spending a year in Calgary Flames system. Loko’s roster has improved with additions and players that were already there - Yegor Korshkov, Artur Kayumov, Alexei Marchenko and many more. You cannot go without mentioning their goalie Eddie Pasquale who was one of their brightest stars last season. The goal certainly is higher than the second round for the Yaroslavl-based team.

Dinamo Riga experienced a huge overhaul from top to bottom last-years head coach and general manager Peteris Skudra wasn’t returning and the organization had to look for replacements. Edgars Buncis is now the general manager and the first thing on his agenda was to add a head coach - he got one with an impressive resume as a player and coach - Sergei Zubov is now behind the bench. The on-ice roster looks a whole different as well. Miks Indrasis decided to give another shot and play in Russia, he’s now with Podolsk, youngster Martins Dzierkals is gone but the additions are truly remarkable - Lukas Radil is a gem that surprised many fans when the signing was announced, Martins Karsums has returned home and by all means necessary you can say that Buncis has got himself an impressive list of imports as well from all over Europe. Lauris Darzins is still there to help his team as well as Gints Meija who has been on the roster since the first season. The goal remains - playoffs and it’s really realistic if we look at the team on paper.

Two minutes in, the guest side went on a man advantage and that meant a one-goal lead for them. Ceverny passed to Radil from the blueline, the Czech forward wasted no time to pass back to Ceverny who had skated up to the middle of the offensive zone and managed to easily beat Eddie Pasquale for the first time this season. Lokomotiv instantly began their own attack, creating chances as a well-oiled machine they are while Riga showed signs of misunderstanding between the players and that came with no surprise - during pre-season they didn’t get to play a single game with the best available players on the roster due to injuries, as well as Olympic Qualification tournament playing a huge part in players being unavailable since a huge chunk of them represented Team Latvia.

Loko didn’t do themselves any favors as they got another penalty - this time too many men on the ice. 27 seconds was enough for Riga to double their lead. Oskars Cibulskis shot from the blueline with Pasquale’s sight being interrupted by Martins Karsums who also managed to tip the puck enough to allow it to fly into the net.

Special teams continued to impress - Riga’s Ceverny was sent to the box and Lokomotiv managed to score a similar goal to the opponent's second one - Rushan Rafikov’s shot from the blueline, interrupted the line of sight for the goalie and it went back to a one-goal battle. The first period ended with both sides exchanging power-play time but neither side could score. Riga even had a one-on-one breakaway but Emile Poirier was stopped. Dinamo player Martins Karsums admitted that the first period was played in a manner that they expected - a fast-paced game and that the team was ready for it. ‘’In the first period everything worked well, in the second we screwed it up ourselves, talked it over in the dressing room but we couldn’t manage to do anything in the third. If it wasn’t for our goalie, the outcome would have been a lot worse.’’

Lokomotiv came out flying in the second period eager to tie the game. Aggressive hockey on both sides of the ice as well as scoring chances. Those of high danger belonged to the home team. Eventually, Skabelka’s side applied much pressure and used their opportunities to change lines while attacking, causing issues for Riga. With seven minutes played in the period, Daniil Misyul shot the puck towards the net and his partner Maxim Osipov deflected it past Johan Mattsson from close range to level the score. After the goal, Lokomotiv showed no signs of weakness carrying on their pressing with Riga only having the option to throw the puck away as far as possible from their own goal. Luckily for them, it was only one goal against in the second period meaning that things would be decided in the third period of the game.

At the start of the final frame Dinamo seemed eager to regain their lead but a bucket of cold water was quickly poured over their heads. A mistake behind their goal by Dinamo defenders led to a quick pass by Sagadeyev to the front of the net and Pavel Kudryavtsev shot it under the crossbar to give Lokomotiv their first lead of the game. Zubov tried to change the thread of the game by switching up his team's lines but it didn’t seem to work as their on-ice rivals kept on creating opportunities with Riga only showing some flashes of occasional offense. Alexander Yelesin got penalized for holding with 3:17 left in the third giving Dinamo an incredible opportunity to force overtime. Riga didn’t pull the goalie during that time to which head coach Sergei Zubov admitted that his team couldn’t hold on to the puck. ‘’We waited for the right moment but we couldn’t manage to keep the puck in order to pull the goalie during the powerplay.’’ The home team held on and that helped earn the first two points of the season for Lokomotiv.

Post-game goal scorer Karsums said that he felt good on the ice but it just wasn’t enough. On positives that the team could carry over to the next game, he mentioned the team's offense. ‘’I believe that we created our chances well while on the defensive side we have a lot to work on. It’s just the first game of the season so we have a lot of time to fix everything and move on.’’ Head coach Sergei Zubov agreed - ‘’We started the game really well, with many great scoring opportunities. First five to seven minutes we dictated the tempo of the game but in the second period, it wasn’t as easy anymore. We had issues exiting the zone. We have issues with team readiness but these sound like excuses right now. I believe that we will soon get into the rhythm and start preparing for the next game.’’

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