Women’s Hockey Update: Sept. 27, 2016
It is Tuesday, so once again we update you on the week’s happenings in Russian women’s hockey! The big news this week was that the national team was in action, having journeyed to the United States for a series of games against clubs in the NWHL. Read on, for a summary of that has gone so far, and some other bits of news!
Given the fact that the North American national teams tower above all others in international women’s play, and the fact that the U.S. team in particular would have a number of players on the NWHL clubs which Russia would face, it was a bit hard to know what to expect from this tour. Could Team Russia stay competitive? Could they win a game? Could they win them all?
A quick run-down of the four matches so far:
The series opener was not as lopsided as the score makes it seem, but a lack of killer instinct cost the Russians in this game. The defending Isobel Cup champion Pride took the lead early, only to have Yekaterina Nikolayeva scramble home a loose puck to tie things before the the end of the first. However, the Bostoners scored two in the second and repeated that in the third to make the final 5-1. Russia did carve out some chances through clever passing at times, and led on the shot-clock 24-18 at the end, but their inability to finish plays off told much of the story in this one. Valeriya Tarakanova got the start in goal, and it was not her best performance, although none of the goals were terrible ones.
Head coach Alexei Chistyakov called on Mariya Sorokina for the goaltending chores in Game 2 of the series, and she responded with a 25-save performance. Once again, however, Russia’s scorers had a tough time of it. With New York up 2-0 and eight minutes left on the clock, former NWHLer Yekaterina Smolentseva scored to set up a white-knuckle finish, but the equalizer could not be found. Russia, outshot 27-20, fell to 0-2 on the tour, albeit with the consolation of having been competitive in both games.
Finally, in Game 3, the Russians broke through to rack up their first victory of the series. Appropriately enough, it was former Riveter Lyudmila Belyakova whose influence was decisive in this one. Her current Tornado Moscow Oblast team-mate Alevtina Shtaryova gave Russia a very early lead, which held up through 40 minutes. Seven minutes into the third, Belyakova doubled the advantage, and then, after the Riveters had pulled within one, she made sure of the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Fanuza Kadirova added one more for good measure, with the goalie back in and only a couple of ticks remaining. Like Game 1, it was closer than the score indicates; Nadezhda Morozova did sterling work in net, stopping 33 shots (Russia had 20 for the game) to pick up the historic win.
This one, frankly, was one that Team Russia should have had, as they carried a 23-11 advantage in shots after 40 minutes, and a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard thanks to two more goals by Belyakova. But perhaps fatigue set in (this was, after all, Russia’s fourth game in four nights, in three different cities). The shots were seven apiece in the third period, and the Whale got the puck past Sorokina twice in a little under two minutes to take home the victory.
The Russian players now get a much-needed day off, before closing out their U.S. tour with a rematch against the Whale on Thursday. It has been an interesting set of games, and despite the 1-3 overall record, Team Russia has acquitted itself well. With a bit of luck, they could be sitting at 2-2, and have been competitive against their North American rivals in all four games. This Russian team is capable of beautifully creative play on occasion, and while defensive breakdowns can and have occurred, the players have not shown any sign of being out of their depth. Encouraging signs!
In Russia herself, meanwhile, the Women’s Hockey League has been on break while the national team is away. Action on the professional circuit resumes next Monday. However, there has been some women’s hockey going on: the national Under-18 Girls’ Championship got underway this week in Nizhny Novgorod. The championship is determined through a series of tournaments held over the course of the season, and features youth teams from clubs and hockey schools across Russia. A number of players from the U18 national team that recently visited Germany took part in this week’s action, as did some of the young players from Women’s Hockey League clubs.
The big winners of the first tournament of the 2016-17 season was the youth team of SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, who had several players who have seen time with senior side this year. SKIF, who were hosting this leg of the championship, faced representative teams from the city of Moscow, from Moscow Oblast (featuring a number of players from Tornado), and from Sverdlovsk Oblast, as well as the team from the Sergei Makarov Hockey School in Chelyabinsk. SKIF not only went 4-0 (their lone blemish was that they needed overtime to defeat the Moscow team 1-0), but did not concede a goal while scoring 22 of their own. The City of Moscow team came second at 3-1, while Moscow Oblast were 2-2 to take third place.
Unsurprisingly, it was SKIF players who dominated the post-tournament awards, with Viktoriya Kulishova voted the best forward, Yelena Provorova the best defender, and Diana Farkhutdinova the best goalie — all three have seen time with SKIF’s senior squad in the Women’s Hockey League this season, and all three were on the U18 national team for the recent tournament in Germany. The top scorer in the tournament, however, was Olga Shirokova, who plays for a boys’ team with the Orbita Zelenograd club. Among the other alumnae of that club are U18 national team goalies Valeriya Merkusheva and Milena Tretyak, so Shirokova is definitely a name to keep in mind.
Finally, there was some pre-season action in the amateur League of Women’s Hockey this week. Defending national amateur champions Grad-1 Moscow captured a four team-tournament that also featured their reserve team (Grad-2) and league newcomers HK Valkiriya and HK Spartanki. We should get a full LWH roster of teams and a schedule sometime around mid-October, but it seems clear already that Grad-1 will once again be the team to beat.
Next Tuesday we’ll get you fully caught up on the Russian national team’s U.S. tour and the results of that final game, as well as the resumption of Women’s Hockey League action. And we will look at the Under-18 national side as it prepares for exhibition games against Switzerland and Germany. Thank you for reading!