Women’s Hockey Update: Sept. 13, 2016
Time for another update on the women’s hockey scene in Russia! This time around we’ve got more action from the Women’s Hockey League, some international hockey news, and a note or two from the amateur ranks, so read on…
The Women’s Hockey League saw its second weekend of action over the last few days, with six of its seven teams in action (SK Sverdlovsk Oblast had the bye). Defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast faced a tricky trio of games against SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, and though Tornado took all nine points in the end, they were made to work for them. The first meeting was tied at four with only five minutes to go before a Lyudmila Belyakova marker broke the deadlock; Nina Pirogova added one late for a 6-4 final. In Game 2, eight goals were again shared equally through the opening 47 minutes (in an odd coincidence, the teams scored them in the same order as in Game 1) before Tornado broke down the door with late markers from Anna Shokhina, Angelina Goncharenko, and Alevtina Shtaryova. — 7-4 the final in that one. SKIF, backed by a 41-save performance from Valeriya Tarakanova, nearly stole Game 3; the Nizhny Novgorod side led 2-1 with only a few minutes left. However, Shokhina and Pirogova both found the net in the space of 18 seconds, and Tornado completed the sweep with a 3-2 victory. In truth, the games were not quite as close as the scoreboard indicated; Tornado outshot SKIF 134-56 over the three contests.
Tornado’s chief rival for the title, Agidel Ufa, were up in Ukhta to take on Arktik-Universitet. Agidel’s superior talent told in this match-up, as the Ufans also swept all three contests. In the first, Arktik-Universitet hung tight until the mid-way point of the game before Agidel broke it open and strolled home with a 7-2 victory; Yekaterina Smolentseva’s goal and three assists were key. Game 2 looked to be going the same way, as Agidel were up 3-0 within 16 minutes. From there, however, Arktik-Universitet launched a ferocious counterattack, and only stellar work from the Ufa team’s goalie, Anna Prugova, kept them at bay (many thanks to Denis Osipchuk for the video clip in that link). It ended still at 3-0, despite the Ukhta side out-shooting Agidel 27-9 over the last two periods. Game 3 finished 6-1 for Agidel, but four goals in the final eight minutes made it look a bit more lopsided than it really was.
The third set of games this past weekend featured Biryusa Krasnoyarsk making their season debut at home against Dynamo St. Petersburg. Last year, this was the battle for third place in the league (Biryusa won it in the end), and it should be likewise this season. The St. Petersburg team seized the initiative in Game 1, as Lidiya Malyavko’s second-period goal stood up as the winner in a 2-1 victory; goalies Nadezhda Morozova (Biryusa) and Mariya Sorokina (Dynamo) both distinguished themselves. The two netminders showed similar lack of generosity in Game 2, but it was once again Dynamo finishing in front by a 3-1 score. Biryusa, who played the weekend without top forward Valeriya Pavlova (injury, I assume, although I have not confirmed that 100%), finally got some revenge in the third game. Morozova faced 23 shots and made 23 saves, and Biryusa scored late in the second period and early in the final frame to salvage something from the weekend with a 2-0 victory.
It’s early days yet, of course, but the Women’s Hockey League scoring table already has a rather Tornado-ish flavour to it. Shokhina leads the way with 14 points in six games, just ahead of her line-mate Yelena Dergachyova with 13. Those two are also tied atop the goals chart, having registered six apiece. The league’s leading scorer from the blueline, meanwhile, is another Tornado player: Pirogova, with a line of 2-5-7 in the six games.
And what of last year’s scoring champion, Olga Sosina of Agidel? Well, she had an uncharacteristic flat start to the season, going without a point and -4 in her team’s first two games last week against Tornado. However, since then she was found the range a bit, with seven points in four games. She is a supremely talented player, and one must think she will make her presence felt in the scoring race as the season goes along.
The Women’s Hockey League now goes on break until early October, as the Russian national teams, Senior and Under-18, take over the schedule. The U18s will be taking part in the Cup of German Unity in Selb, along with the U18 women’s teams of Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, from the 16th to the 18th of this month. The extended roster for the tournament is here, and if I had to pick just one name to watch, it would be forward Darya Beloglazova. The fifteen-year-old (she turns 16 this coming Sunday), who plays out of the Pingvini Hockey School in Moscow, made her U18 Worlds debut this past winter, and scored five points in six games. We’ll have a full recap of the tournament next week in this space.
The Senior national team has also announced its preliminary roster for those upcoming games in the States, and you can see that here; the games themselves will take place between September 24th and 30th. There are no huge surprises, except perhaps the absence of Prugova’s name among the goalies. Coach Alexei Chistyakov has preferred Sorokina and Morozova, who dueled each other to such effect this past weekend (see above), along with SKIF’s Tarakanova. Deserving choices, all three of them, and it suggests that the Russian women’s program may be developing some nice depth at the position. We will have more here on the team chosen for the NWHL games next week.
Finally, we are seeing the first stirrings of 2016-17 activity in the League of Women’s Hockey, the top amateur women’s hockey circuit in Russia. The league has sent out its call for participants, and will announce teams and schedule at some point after the middle of October. The Grad-1 team, from Moscow, won the inaugural national amateur championship last season, and should be strong contenders once again.
I am much obliged to Alexander Agapov, via Facebook, for this news note concerning the League of Women’s Hockey: there may be a familiar name among the new teams taking part this season. Dynamo Kursk, who withdrew from the professional league just before this season began, are reportedly applying for membership in the amateur circuit. Dynamo intend to play out of Stary Oskol, not far from Kursk and better-equipped with available arenas. Hopefully that project can get back on track.
And that’s about it for this week’s update! More on the international goings-on, and any other happenings of interest, in seven days. Thank you for reading!