Disappointment, But Bright Spots Too
So close! Team Russia, hunting for a second consecutive podium appearance at the U18 Women’s World Championship this past week in St. Catharines, Ontario, had to settle for a fourth-place finish after dropping the bronze medal game on Friday to Sweden by a score of 2-1. The damage was done early; Sweden took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission before the young Russians found their stride. Despite furious pressure — Russia outshot Sweden 15-4 in the third period — only Darya Beloglazova’s late strike found its way into the Swedish net. Later on Friday, the United States clinched their second straight championship with a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada.
Below the jump, we take a closer look at Team Russia’s fortunes at the tournament.
Russia’s tournament began with a 5-2 loss to the host Canadians, but it must be said that the score may have flattered the home team somewhat. Russian captain Fanuza Kadirova posed a particular problem for the Canadian defence, scoring once and firing on goal six times. The final shot total favoured Canada, but only 20-18, and on a luckier day the Russians might have pulled off a truly startling result. Game 2, against the U.S., was not so close. The Americans outshot Team Russia 46-11, on their way to a comfortable 6-0 victory. Russia then closed out the group stage by running out to a three-goal lead against the Czech Republic, then weathering a third-period comeback attempt to win 3-2. Kadirova was once again at the heart of matters, scoring twice and setting up line-mate Yelena Vodopyanova for the other Russian goal.
With third place in Group A thus secured, Russia’s next task was the quarterfinal matchup with a Team Finland that had finished second in Group B. Coach Alexander Ulyankin’s young charges met the Finnish challenge with probably their best game of the entire tournament, outshooting their rivals 33-17 and getting a shutout performance from Valeriya Tarakanova in net (more on her in a little bit). Kadirova once again potted a pair, and rising young phenom Beloglazova, on the same line, had Russia’s third in the 3-0 victory. On to the semifinal, a rematch against Team Canada, and perhaps the hosts had been suffering a bit from nerves back on opening night. It was a different Canadian squad in this particular get-together; they dominated the shot clock to the tune of 43-12, and won the game 4-0. And that brought Team Russia to the Bronze Medal game against Sweden, as we discussed at the outset of this post.
Despite the disappointment of the fourth-place finish, there are definitely some positives for the Russian women’s hockey program to take from this tournament. For one, there’s the fact that fourth place was, indeed, a disappointment. As recently as 2013, Russia was contesting the relegation round in this tournament, and survived in the top division only thanks to two narrow victories over Germany. To go from that to expecting a medal in only three years is a mark of real progress. Furthermore, thanks to that quarterfinal victory over Finland, Russia will be in the top-seeded Group A for the 2017 tournament, and guaranteed a spot in the knockout games.
And there were some fine performances among the Russian players in St. Catharines, despite coming up short of the podium. Tarakanova, who had been chosen as the best goaltender of the 2015 championship, went a step further and was named MVP of the entire tournament in 2016. She also broke the all-time record for U18 World Championship appearances by a goalie. Kadirova, too, was electric; she scored five of Russia’s nine goals herself, good for third among all players at the tournament, and assisted on two others. Her seven points tied her for second in scoring at the competition, and earned her selection as one of the three forwards on the tournament all-star team. Finally, the 15-year-old Beloglazova impressed at her first U18 Worlds, recording five points while playing on the top line.
So what next? Well, a number of the players we’ve been watching over the last 10 days or so will be back in Canada at the end of March for the senior Women’s World Championship in British Columbia. Last year, Kadirova, Tarakanova, and defender Nina Pirogova were summoned to the “big” national team for the Worlds, and there’s a better than decent chance that all three will once again get that call (Tarakanova almost certainly will). In the meantime, it will be back to business for many of the players; the Russian Women’s Hockey League commences play again on Monday.
As for next year’s Under-18 team, there was a certain amount of apt symbolism in the final Russian goal of the 2016 tournament, which saw Kadirova, in her last Under-18 Championship game, set up promising newcomer Beloglazova for the finish. The next couple of Under-18 Russian teams will probably rely heavily on Beloglazova, the young star from Moscow’s Pingviny Hockey School. Pirogova, too, should be back to provide some veteran help on defense. However, Kadirova, Tarakanova, and nine of their team-mates have now graduated from U18 World Championship eligibility, so 2017 may be something of a transitional year for Team Russia.
The 2016 U18 Women’s World Championship will likely go down as a bittersweet one for fans of Russian hockey. There were great moments, and great performances, but it didn’t quite end the way we wanted it to. That said, it was immensely fun to watch, and the 2017 edition will doubtless be likewise!
2017 U18 Women’s World Championship Groups:
- Group A: U.S.A., Canada, Sweden, Russia
- Group B: Czech Republic, Finland, Switzerland, Japan