Russia at the U18 Women’s Worlds
On Friday, in St. Catharines, Ontario, there begins the IIHF’s 2016 Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, to give it its full name. It will be the ninth edition of the U18 women’s championship, and the United States come in as defending gold medalists. Russia will, of course, be there, a year after the winning bronze in the 2015 edition of the tournament in Buffalo — the country’s first ever podium finish in this competition. So what chance of a repeat in 2016? Below the jump, we’ll take a look at the Russian roster, and at the tournament itself
We’ll start with a look at the 23-player lineup that Head Coach Alexander Ulyankin has selected for this year’s World Championship (asterisks denote players who were on the team at the 2015 tournament in Buffalo).
- Valeriya Merkusheva (Orbita Zelenograd)
- Valeriya Tarakanova* (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Milena Tretyak (Orbita Zelenograd)
Tarakanova, the returning veteran who plays her club hockey in the professional Women’s Hockey League, should get the lion’s share of the work in St. Catharines. She was superb in last year’s tournament, particularly in Russia’s two games against Canada. Tarakanova stopped 84 of 90 shots over those two matches; although the Canadians prevailed in both, the scores (3-2 and 3-1) did credit to her goaltending heroics. Her performance also earned her a spot on the Russian team at the senior Women’s World Championship in Sweden.
Either Merkusheva or Tretyak, obviously, will serve as back-up. Tretyak (no relation, as far as I know), is one of two players on the team with a 2000 birth certificate; she has been the backup at Biryusa Krasnoyarsk on occasion this season, but has yet to see Women’s Hockey League action herself this season.
- Anna Klimkina (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)
- Yekaterina Lobova* (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)
- Alyona Novikova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Nina Pirogova* (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Mariya Pugina (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Darya Seredina* (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Darya Teryoshkina* (HTI Utopia, Ontario)
- Darya Zubok* (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
Pirogova is the key player here, well on her way to becoming a genuine star of Russian women’s hockey. At the 2015 championship, she tied for third in scoring among defenders, with two goals and an assist in six games; like Tarakanova, she later made the trip to Sweden as a member of the full Russian national team. In Women’s Hockey League action this season, Pirogova has scored 3-10-13 as a member of Tornado’s top defense pairing, and those numbers put her, once again, third in scoring from the blueline.
It looks like Pirogova’s partner on the top pairing in St. Catharines will be fellow-returnee Lobova, who has no goals but nine assists in 16 games for Biryusa this season.
As a side note: Teryoshkina, who plays at the Hockey Training Institute in Utopia, Ontario, is the only player on the squad based outside of Russia.
- Darya Beloglazova (Pingviny Hockey School, Moscow)
- Polina Bolgareva* (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva* (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)
- Margarita Dorofeyeva* (Orbita Zelenograd)
- Landysh Falyakhova* (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Fanuza Kadirova* (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta)
- Viktoriya Kulishova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Yekaterina Likhachyova* (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Tatyana Shatalova (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)
- Sofya Senchukova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Yelena Vodopyanova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Yelizaveta Zenchenko (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
Team Russia’s forward corps will be missing a couple of graduated players in Ontario; Anna Shokhina and Alevtina Shtaryova, both of whom were on the 2015 squad in Buffalo, are currently tearing apart the Women’s Hockey League for Tornado (they are first and fourth in points, respectively, and second and first in goals). So who will step up to fill the gap?
Likely, it will be Fanuza Kadirova; in fact, she already has. Kadirova led the Russian team in scoring in Buffalo a year ago, with eight points from six games (that was one more point than Shokhina posted). Kadirova’s five goals tied her for second in the tournament in that category, and her performance against Finland in the quarterfinal was of particular note. In that one, Russia entered the third period down 3-1, but a goal by Pirogova got them to within one, whereupon Kadirova took over. She tied the game with nine minutes left, then, with only three ticks left on the clock, broke in alone to win it and send Russia to the semifinals. She later joined her U18 team-mates Tarakanova and Pirogova at the senior Women’s World Championship.
Kadirova’s performance in Buffalo was not a fluke. She is currently tied for fourth in RWHL scoring with 31 points from 16 games, and her 14 goals put her into a sixth-place tie in that category. Kadirova is a major talent, and Russia’s scoring potential at this tournament begins with her.
Helping her out on the top line will probably be Dobrodeyeva and Beloglazova, and the latter is a particularly interesting prospect. Having just turned 15 this past September, she is the youngest player in the Russian squad, but she has already shown that she knows where the net is. Playing alongside Kadirova at a four-nations tournament this past fall, Beloglazova scored 3-7-10 in three games, and that bodes well for the team in St. Catharines. In any case, keep an eye out for her if you’re watching the games in the coming days and in future tournaments — she’ll be wearing number 18 for Russia.
The format for the U18 Women’s World Championship is differs somewhat from that used in many international tournaments. Russia will be in Group A — the “top” group — with Canada, and U.S., and the Czech Republic. The top two in Group A are given a bye to the semi-finals, while the bottom two squads will head for the quarter-finals, pairing off against the top two from Group B (Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and newly-promoted France). The bottom two in Group B play each other in a best-of-three set to avoid relegation to the IIHF’s second tier (Japan were the relegated team in 2015).
The schedule for the Russian team will see them take on Canada at 7:30 pm on Friday, followed by the Americans at the same time on Saturday. Their final group game will be against the Czech Republic on Monday at 4:00 pm (all times Eastern, i.e. GMT -5). The knockout round begins on Tuesday.
Russia’s best hope for tournament outcome is probably a repeat of the bronze medal performance in Buffalo last January. The Canadian and American teams are still a fair ways ahead of the rest of the world at women’s hockey, and while steady development and patience will close the gap eventually, that day has not yet arrived. However, it may be closer than we think, and if, for example, Tarakanova has in her another one of those amazing performances like those she gave against Canada last year, who knows what could happen!
In any case, it should be a wonderfully enjoyable tournament! We’ll catch you up on how it’s gone in the next edition of news notes, hopefully on Monday.