Recapping the Women’s Worlds
We mentioned it yesterday in the news notes, but Team Russia entered this year’s Women’s World Championship in Canada with two primary goals to be accomplished. First off, a return to the podium — Russia had failed to win a medal at the last two Women’s Worlds, after taking the 2013 Bronze in Ottawa. Secondly, there was qualification for the 2018 Olympics at stake. The IIHF’s world rankings would be recalculated at the end of this tournament, and the top five countries would join hosts South Korea in the Olympic tournament. Earning one of the last two spots would require surviving a nerve-wracking qualification tournament in 2017, something to avoided if at all possible. Since Russia came in ranked sixth, this meant that they needed to finish ahead of either Sweden or Switzerland to make the necessary move up the table.
As you probably already know, and as the highlights above will show you if you don’t, coming away from Kamloops with both the Bronze Medal and one of those coveted spots in South Korea. Read on, and we’ll recap Team Russia’s 2016 Women’s World Championship performance!
It took a shoot-out, in the end, to settle the issue of the Bronze Medal. After Russia and Finland played 70 scoreless minutes on Monday (60 of regulation plus the 10-minute overtime), penalty shots were called upon to break the deadlock. Team Captain Anna Shchukina scored on Russia’s first attempt, then goalie Nadezhda Morozova foiled the first Finnish try with her right pad. The goalposts stopped the next shooter for each team, which meant that Olga Sosina, of Agidel Ufa in the Russian Women’s Hockey League, stepped up with the game in her hands. She made no mistake, beating Finland’s Meeri Raisanen (a team-mate of Sosina in years past at SKIF Nizhny Novgorod) with a quick backhand move and touching off wild celebration among the Russian players. It was a triumphant end to a tournament that not begun quite so brightly…
— Kristi Patton (@KristiPatton) April 5, 2016
For Russia, in the top-seeded Group A, the tournament had opened against Finland, and — like the Bronze Medal match was to be — it was a thriller of a game. Three times the Finns took a one-goal lead, and three times the Russians tied it up. The University of Calgary’s Iya Gavrilova scored two of the Russian goals, with Anna Shibanova of Agidel tallying the other. However, when Finland took a fourth lead in the game, there was no answer to be found; an insurance goal followed, and the final score was Finland 5, Russia 3. With games against the powerhouse Canadians and Americans to come, finishing above fourth in Group A would be very difficult.
For the first period, at least, against the hosts, it looked like an upset might be on the cards. Although Canada led 13-7 on the shot-clock in the opening 20 minutes, Anna Prugova kept the Russian net undisturbed and Gavrilova scored again to give Russia a 1-0 lead at the first break. Hopes were dashed early the second, however; five Canadian goals in five minutes opened the frame, and by the time the game was over, the scoreboard read 8-1. Two nights later, against the Americans, Russia trailed 3-0 after one period, kept a clean sheet in the second, but conceded another five in the final 20 minutes to lose 8-0.
So, Russia came out of the group stage at 0-3 with a goal difference of -17, but all was far from lost. For one thing, the tournament format meant that a quarterfinal berth was guaranteed, although Russia’s fourth-place finish in Group A meant that game would be a tough match against Sweden rather than a theoretically more winnable game against the Czech Republic. For another, the question of Olympic qualification had been settled. In Group B, Switzerland stumbled through the round-robin, missing the quarterfinals entirely and ending up in the relegation series against Japan. That result meant that the Swiss could not maintain their top-five world ranking, and the qualifiers from this tournament would be Russia, Canada, the U.S.A., Finland, and Sweden.
With that bit of pressure now off both teams, Russia turned in her best performance of the tournament in the quarterfinal against Sweden, and it was Sosina who stepped into the spotlight. The Women’s Hockey League scoring champion for 2015-16 had been held without a point in the group stage, but she rectified that in a major way. First, she provided an assist on Valeriya Pavlova’s opening goal. Then, after Sweden had equalized, Sosina scored herself to make the score 2-1 after the first period. Another assist followed in the second on Tatyana Burina’s goal, and finally, with Sweden pressing late, Sosina scored her second goal of the game into the empty net to make the final 4-1. Through it all, Nadezhda Morozova was solid in goal, getting herself in the way of 26 out of 27 Swedish shots. On to the semi-final, and a guarantee of a shot at a medal.
Awaiting Russia in the final four was a rematch with the Americans, and the U.S. team put this one away early. Four goals in less than five first-period minutes ended the game as a contest, and the scoreboard at the end read 9-0. And that brought about Monday’s Bronze Medal game, with all its drama. Despite the fact that neither Russia nor Finland could find the net in regulation play or overtime, it was far from a boring affair — breakaways were foiled, posts were struck, and great saves were made at both ends. In the end, Sosina’s shootout goal settled the matter, giving Russia her third-ever Bronze Medal at this tournament. It also, incidentally, gave the title of European Champions to Team Russia for the next year.
As for the rest of the tournament results: the USA won gold over Canada in another genuinely thrilling game that went to overtime at 0-0. That one, however, did not make it to a shootout, as Alex Carpenter potted the winner at 12:30 of the extra period. Sweden, after the quarterfinal defeat to Russia, earned some consolation by winning the fifth-place game against the Czech Republic. And Switzerland survived in the Top Division, relegating Japan to Division IA. Germany will take Japan’s place in the top flight next year. As for the Olympic qualification, we have already noted the five qualifiers from this tournament. The last two spots will be determined in qualification tournaments hosted by Switzerland and Japan next year.
So what can we say about Russia’s tournament as a whole? Well, to begin with, Coach Mikhail Chekanov had his team at its best exactly when it needed to be — in the quarterfinal and in the Bronze Medal game. The tournament’s format (a good one, I think, for the current landscape of international women’s hockey) means that the Group A teams can afford to ease their into the tournament a little bit, knowing that they are guaranteed at least a quarterfinal game and that they have no chance of being relegated.
Sosina led the way in team scoring, with five points (the IIHF counts her shootout winner as a goal in the individual statistics), followed by Gavrilova with three — both had fine tournaments in the final analysis. Only six Russian forwards scored a point in this competition, and only three (Sosina, Gavrilova, and Alexandra Vafina) managed more than one. Occasion to regret, once again, the injury that kept Anna Shokhina from the team — she would instantly have added another potent threat to the Russian attack.
As for the defence, Chukinov had raised an eyebrow or two by only six blueliners with him to Kamloops, but under the circumstances they did just fine. The veteran Shchukina, with the captain’s ‘C’ on her sweater, was a rock in the Bronze Medal Game and scored in the shootout as well. And the youngest player on the squad, 17-year-old Nina Pirogova of HK Tornado Moscow Oblast, chipped in with a couple of assists at the Championship, tying her club team-mate Angelina Goncharenko for the scoring lead among the Russian defenders.
And of course, I would be remiss not to mention Morozova’s heroics in goal. Just as at last year’s tournament, all three Russian goalies (Mariya Sorokina and Anna Prugova were the other two) saw significant time in net in Kamloops, but it was Morozova, of HK Biryusa in Krasnoyarsk, who was called upon for the important moments, and she delivered with aplomb on those occasions — one goal conceded, total, in the quarterfinal against Sweden and the third-place game against Finland.
We also must ask, as we do every year, whether there are signs of inroads made against the giants of international women’s hockey, namely Canada and the United States. A quick glance at the scores from this tournament would suggest not this time — Canada and the U.S. outscored Russia 25-1 over their three games. However, all three meetings were marked by short spells where everything went wrong for Team Russia. Five goals against in five minutes in the game against Canada, and four in less than five minutes against the U.S. in the Semifinal are the biggest examples, but not the only ones. Outside of these moments of disaster, while it would be a stretch to say that the games were even, the Russian team did much better, and even showed the ability to create quality scoring chances. While it may be easier said than done, cutting out those bad patches will be a major step towards becoming regularly competitive with the Canadian and American teams.
But, that is for the future, and Mikhail Chekanov and his staff now have another full year to figure out how to make that happen. In the meantime, this was a triumphant tournament for Russian women’s hockey — the return to the podium (and to the European Championship title) is an excellent reward in itself, but Russia also improved her spot in the world rankings from sixth to fourth, thus allowing work to begin towards the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. All in all, a good week’s work!