Women’s Hockey Update: Sept. 6th, 2016
Three games into a 36-game schedule is a little early to find oneself in a must-win situation, but that was not far from what faced Agidel Ufa on Tuesday. Last year’s runners-up had dropped their first two games against title rivals Tornado Moscow Oblast, and a third loss would see them in a deep hole to start the season. How did they do? Read on, for that and some other notes.
First of all, Agidel came through against Tornado, winning the last of their three-game set by a 4-2 score. Tornado, the defending champions, had won the first game 3-2 on the strength of Yelena Dergachyova’s third-period shorthanded marker. In the second meeting, Agidel held a 4-2 lead with fifteen minutes to play before Tornado scored four times to make the final 6-4 in their favour. On Tuesday, Agidel gave goalie Anna Prugova her first start of the season, and she responded by turning away 23 of 25 Tornado shots to secure her team a very important victory. The two teams will renew acquaintances in Ufa in late November.
Elsewhere around the league, SKIF Nizhny Novgorod recovered from an opening game 3-1 loss to Arktik-Universitet Ukhta to win the next two by scores of 6-1 and 4-1. Most impressively, they held Arktik-Universitet star Fanuza Kadirova to a single goal over the course of the three games. And SK Sverdlovsk Oblast were no match for Dynamo St. Petersburg, losing three straight by scores of 4-0, 4-0, and 7-0. Alena Polenska and Aneta Teiralova led the way for Dynamo with five points apiece, but we should also tip our hats to SKSO goalie Valeriya Merkusheva. The 16-year-old, who made Russia’s U18 team for last year’s World Championship, faced 158 shots over the three games, which puts her 15 goals allowed into something of a new light.
The league is back in action on Friday, Saturday, and next Monday, before going on break until early October. During the break, the Russian women’s national team will visit the United States for some exhibition games against teams in the NWHL. The Under-18 team will take part in a training camp and some friendlies in Germany.
A few more minor details have emerged about the sudden withdrawal of Dynamo Kursk from the Women’s Hockey League on the eve of the new season. Alexander Markovchin, chairman of the Kursk Oblast Committee on Physical Culture and Sports, was harsh in his analysis of the project, describing it as a “reckless adventure” and stating that “the conditions for the creation of a professional women’s hockey team in Kursk Oblast do not exist yet” (he cited in particular the fact that the region contains only two small arenas). Markovchin also alleged that the club had failed to file the proper documentation, and had over-stated the amount of money it had raised (“mythical sponsors, which as of today are not there” were his exact words).
On the other hand, Dynamo founder Liliya Delova sounded somewhat optimistic even in light of the team’s withdrawal from the 2016-17 season. In the same article linked above, she is quoted as saying:
“The club has not ceased to exist, and we will fight to the end to take part next season in the Women’s Hockey League championship. The KHL is currently doing everything possible to make it so that this is the case.”
I hope she is correct in this — Delova’s story is a compelling one, and it would be nice to see her dream of a women’s hockey team in her hometown come to fruition. It does, unfortunately, sound like the project was a bit of a mess by the end, and it might perhaps have been wiser to take an extra year and aim for a 2017-18 debut in the first place. However, the success of Arktik-Universitet Ukhta shows that professional women’s hockey can be established, and succeed, in the smaller centres, so there is some cause for hope.
There is, understandably, a good deal of attention being paid on the North American side of pond to the fortunes of forwards Lyudmila Belyakova and Yekaterina Smolentseva, both of home spent last season in the U.S.-based NWHL before returning to Russia for the 2016-17 campaign. The two were facing each other on the opening weekend in the series between Tornado, for whom Belyakova now plays, and Smolentseva’s Agidel side. And both came out of the opening three games with their names on the scoresheet. Belyakova scored two goals in the second game, one of which began Tornado’s big third-period comeback. As for Smolentseva, she recorded three assists over the three games, including setting up Olga Sosina’s winning goal for Agidel in the third meeting.
As a final note, I would like to wish a belated “happy retirement” to Dynamo St. Petersburg defender Yuliya Karpova, who hung up her skates this summer at the age of 32. She had spent the last three seasons in St. Petersburg, after previously playing for Agidel. Karpova will be staying with Dynamo; she has joined the team’s coaching staff as an assistant.
An interesting historical note on Karpova: she is actually a third-generation blueliner. Her grandfather, Nikolai Karpov, played defence for Central Red Army, the Leningrad Officers’ Club (now SKA St. Petersburg), Dynamo Moscow, and Krylya Sovetov in the 1950s and early 1960s, and made the Soviet national team for the 1960 Olympics. He later coached Spartak Moscow to two national chamionships. And Yuliya’s father Sergei had a 20-year career as a defenceman for a number of teams in the USSR, Finland, and the Russian Federation before retiring in 1997.
This is the first installment of what I hope will become an every-Tuesday posting where we look at the past week’s goings-on in Russian women’s hockey. Next Tuesday, look for updates on the weekend’s Women’s Hockey League games, plus any other bits and pices of news that may come along. Thank you for reading!