Women’s Hockey Update: Oct. 12th, 2016
A day late, due to some holiday travel this past weekend, but here we are with this week’s update on the Russian women’s hockey scene! And the delay actually works out well, since it allows to get the full story on the latest round of Women’s Hockey League games. So read on for that tale, the latest results for the Russian Under-18 girls’ team, and some news from the amateur game. Also an interesting historical note…
The Women’s Hockey League has seen its first in-season coaching change of 2016-17, and it came at SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. When we last checked in, SKIF had been the victims of a massive comeback in losing the first of a three-game set against Agidel Ufa. In the second meeting between the two, last Wednesday, there was far less drama; Olga Sosina and Alexandra Kapustina each recorded two goals and two assists as Agidel eased to a 7-2 victory, and that seems to have prompted SKIF to make the change. Out went SKIF head coach Sergei Ivanov and assistant Vasily Smirnov. No specific reason for the move has been given officially, as the team’s press release simply stated that the two parties “reached an agreement on the termination of cooperation.”
The new bench bosses both have long connections to hockey in Nizhny Novgorod. Interim head coach Oleg Namestnikov is starting his second stint in charge of SKIF, after a 16-year playing career spent entirely with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Namestnikov’s assistant for the time being will be Larisa Teplygina, who herself patrolled the blueline for SKIF for a number of seasons before retiring in 2015.
As for the team, it responded well to the change in coaches. The third game against Agidel, last Friday, featured two assists from defender Mariya Pechnikova and a 34-save performance by Valeriya Tarakanova in goal, as SKIF dealt Agidel’s title hopes a blow with a 3-1 victory.
Elsewhere, meanwhile, Dynamo St. Petersburg wrapped up a three-game sweep of Arktik-Universitet Ukhta with a 2-0 victory last Thursday (Mariya Sorokina stopped 22 shots for the shutout). Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, also on Thursday, completed a similar sweep of SK Sverdlovsk Oblast by getting goals from eight different players in a 9-2 triumph. That cleared the weekend calendar for three games between league-leading Dynamo and defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast, which would go a long way towards revealing whether Dynamo’s title challenge was for real.
Well, it appears that the answer to that one is: “not just yet, but they may not be too far away.” In the first game of the series, Tornado captain Anna Shokhina scored twice, while Nadezhda Alexandrova stopped 33 incoming pucks for a 5-0 victory. Dynamo mounted a sterner challenge in the second meeting, taking a 2-1 lead into the third period before Yelena Vodopyanova tied things for Tornado with 13 minutes left. The game would end up going to the dreaded shootout, where Lyudmila Belyakova’s goal in the fifth round secured two points for the Moscow Oblast side. In the third game, however, Tornado reasserted their dominance; the defending champions led 4-0 before the game was 22 minutes old, and with Alexandrova once again in fine form, they cruised home with another 5-0 win.
Where does that leave us? Dynamo St. Petersburg are still you league leaders, with 25 points from 12 games, but they are only two points up on Tornado, and the latter have three games in hand. Agidel are currently holding down third, with 18 points in nine games, followed by Biryusa on 12 points after just six games. I think we have to say that Tornado have the inside track for the title at the moment, although even that is far from settled and the fight for the other podium spots should prove very interesting as well.
The Women’s Hockey League takes a few days off at this point, with action resuming on the 16th.
There was international women’s hockey action this past week as well, as the Russian U18 team voyaged to Füssen, Germany, for a three-nation tournament that also featured the host country and Switzerland. This was the youngsters’ second trip to Germany; a couple of weeks ago they went 3-0 to capture the four-team Cup der deutschen Einheit.
And you make Team Russia U18’s record in Germany 6-0 now. Yevgeny Bobariko’s team opened the tournament with a comprehensive 6-1 dismantling of the Swiss, paced by two goals from Mariya Lobur and some good goaltending by the increasingly impressive Valeriya Merkusheva. Milena Tretyak took over between the posts for Russia’s second game, also against Switzerland. Once again, Russia prevailed, this time in dramatic fashion, as Darya Beloglazova’s goal with only eight seconds left in the third period proved the difference in a 3-2 victory. Team Russia wrapped up the competition with a 1-0 victory over the Germans; Merkusheva returned to duty to earn the shutout, while Tatyana Shatalova of Biryusa Krasnoyarsk scored the only goal.
So it has been an excellent start to the 2016-17 campaign for the Under-18s, perfect through six games. Of course, the competition has not been of the first rank so far, but there will be a stiffer test when they next take the ice. That will happen in early November at Tornado’s home rink in Dmitrov, and the visitors will be Finland, Sweden, and Germany. The 2017 U18 Women’s Worlds will take place in the Czech Republic in early January.
Finally, the field is set for the 2016-17 season in the amateur League of Women’s Hockey! This season will feature 21 teams, divided into four groups. The final schedule will not be out for another couple of weeks, but the format calls for teams to play their group rivals twice each, after which six clubs (presumably the group winners plus the two best second-place teams) will meet up in Sochi next year for the championship tournament. The groups are as follows:
- Atlant Moscow Oblast
- Valkiriya Moscow
- Grad-1 Moscow
- Grad-2 Moscow
- Spartanki Moscow
- Groza-1 St. Petersburg
- Groza-2 St. Petersburg
- Tigritsy Amura Khabarovsk
- HK Nikolai Liu (Ukhta)
- Shturm Pskov
- Grizli-1 Novosibirsk
- Grizli-2 Novosibirsk
- Kuznechanka Novokuznetsk
- Sibirskie Khaski Novosibirsk
- Sobol Irkutsk
- Yugorchanka Surgut
- Angely Kirov
- Malakhit Yekaterinburg
- Soyuz Penza
- Tyumenskie Lisitsy (Tyumen)
- Forvard Kazan
I mentioned that the schedule has not yet been released, but Group Б will play its first round of games in late November, in Strelna near St. Petersburg. You will note, in that group, the “Nikolai Liu Hockey Club” from Ukhta, and there is an interesting historical tale behind that. Nikolai Tyankovich Liu was a goalie for Ukhta’s teams in the lower divisions of the Soviet Championship in the 1960s, and then coached various local squads for the next several decades. In the early 2000s, he founded the first women’s hockey club in the city (and indeed in the whole Komi Republic), Planeta-Universitet Ukhta, and several players from that squad would go on to play professionally for Arktik-Universitet. Sadly, Liu never got to see his city’s professional women’s team take the ice; he passed away in 2009, three years before the Arktik-Universitet club was founded. However, without his work on behalf of women’s hockey in the region (not to mention his efforts in getting an indoor arena built in the city), it is hard to imagine that little northern Ukhta would be represented in country’s top women’s league. So it is very nice to see that the amateur team from the city will bear his name!
That’s it for this week. Next time, we’ll get you caught up on the Women’s Hockey League doings, and whatever else might crop up in the meantime — thank you for reading!