News Note: The Women’s Hockey League in 2016-17
Russia’s professional Women’s Hockey League will enter its second season under the control of the KHL this Fall, and on Monday the latter league’s head office hosted a meeting of all the WHL team executives to discuss the upcoming campaign. And there were a couple of very interesting takeaways from the meeting, which we will discuss below — read on!
The first major note of interest was that the WHL will likely be expanding by one team next season. The prospective new entry is the one we mentioned here a few weeks ago, the team from Kursk that is currently working under the name “Dynamo.” The final paperwork (provision of financial guarantees, etc.) still needs to be dealt with, but the group from Kursk took part in Monday’s meeting, and it does not sound like there are any serious concerns at the moment. And there was further happy news along those lines: all seven of last year’s participating teams (Agidel Ufa, Arktik Universitet Ukhta, Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, Dynamo St. Petersburg, SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, and reigning champions Tornado Moscow Oblast) have provided the necessary assurances that they will be “in” for 2016-17. So, it looks like the Women’s Hockey League will be an eight-team circuit in the coming season.
Dynamo Kursk have not been idle, pending their hoped-for formal admittance to the league. The team has already held on-ice auditions, and has 20 or so players with which to go into official pre-season training in late July (the big name on the squad so far is former Tornado goalie Tatyana Shchukina). Dynamo will be coached by Vasily Pankov, a former Belarusan national team player who has behind-the-bench experience in both men’s and women’s hockey (he was the coach of Belarus’s first women’s hockey club, Pantera Minsk, as well as the country’s U18 girls’ team). The General Manager is former Russian national team netminder Mariya Onolbayeva.
The Kursk team is the brainchild of its General Director, 20-year-old Liliya Delova, a Kursk native who started her hockey career playing on boys’ teams in the city. She then went on to a brief professional stint abroad before injury put an end to her playing days. It should be no surprise that Delova subsequently turned her energy towards building up women’s hockey in her hometown; in a 2010 interview, when she was only 14, she commented “I would like very much to create a women’s team in Kursk” (the interview, by the way, is very interesting and worth a read). It would appear that that goal is now most assuredly within her grasp (Update: the KHL’s official site today posted a short interview with Delova about the new team).
The second piece of very interesting news from Monday’s league meeting was that the 2016-17 Women’s Hockey League season will likely feature a lot more games than did the previous campaign. In 2015-16, each team played each other team four times, for a total of 24 games each — not many, in other words. The talk from Monday’s meeting was of increasing to a six-round format, which, if Kursk is indeed approved for membership, would mean that each club takes to the ice 42 times next season. This is definitely a good thing; more game action can only help development of the league, and at the same time a 42-game schedule should not intrude too much on the demands of the Russian national team.