Women’s Hockey Update: Oct. 25th, 2016
Time for another update on Russian women’s hockey, and the last few days have seen some exciting games, and some interesting developments, in the Women’s Hockey League. So read on for that, and also for a story about a kitten!
When we last updated, Arktik-Universitet Ukhta were about to wrap up a three-game set looking for a sweep against SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, and they duly accomplished that last Wednesday; two goals from Fanuza Kadirova and three assists from Hungary’s Alexandra Husak paced the northerners to an 8-0 victory (Alyona Kropachyova and Anna Vinogradova combined for the shutout). Defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast, meanwhile, likewise completed a three-game sweep by downing Biryusa Krasnoyarsk 6-2. Yelena Dergachyova, defender Angelina Goncharenko, and league-leading scorer Anna Shokhina all had three points in the rout.
Three more Women’s Hockey League series then began this past Saturday, and the first of these had Biryusa Krasnoyarsk trooping up north to face Arktik-Universitet in Ukhta. Arktik-Universitet got things underway with a 4-2 victory, Husak scoring a hat-trick and Kadirova adding a goal and three assists. The northerners took the second game too, on Sunday, by an identical score, although this time Husak only scored twice (Kadirova once again assisted on both). The game was a feisty one, as for the second time in a month Biryusa found themselves involved a line brawl. No major penalties were assessed, but all ten skaters ended up in the penalty box for roughing (only one Biryusa player, forward Kristina Nizovtseva, was involved in both of her team’s October brawls). With that out of the way, Arktik-Universitet finished off their second straight sweep today; Biryusa this time held Husak without a goal, but it ended 4-3 to the Ukhta team anyway.
To the south, meanwhile, Dynamo St. Petersburg, who came into the weekend leading the league by single point, were in Ufa to take on third-place Agidel. The home team looked good in the first encounter, as veteran goalie Yuliya Leskina stopped 27 shots, Anna Fagina and Yekaterina Lebedeva scored first-period goals, and Agidel ran out 2-0 winners. The second game, however, saw Dynamo return the favour. Mariya Sorokina made 29 saves, and the St. Petersburg side scored once in each period for a 3-0 final.
That set up a rubber match today, and it was a good one. Agidel seemed to be in control, up 2-0 thanks to early goals from Yekaterina Smolentseva and Lebedeva, with Olga Sosina assisting on both. But Dynamo came roaring back, tying the game through a pair of Yevgeniya Dyulina goals before the first period was over. From there, things tightened up, and it was not until the middle of the third frame that Dynamo took the lead, and indeed the 3-2 victory; Yekaterina Smolina scored the winner, and Dyulina finished up a three-point night with an assist. In addition to the all-important six points, Dynamo came away from Ufa with a kitten — more on that further on.
The third series that played out over the weekend featured Tornado hosting lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, who came into the series scoring less than a goal per game and giving up more than six. So,nobody was too surprised when Tornado took the first game on Saturday by an 8-1 score. Lyudmila Belyakova had a hat-trick and four points, Shokhina added four points (two goals, two assists) of her own, and Dergachyova bettered even that with a goal and five helpers.
The second meeting between the two, however, produced one of the shock scorelines of the season. Tornado were once again in rampant form, firing 52 shots at the SKSO net while allowing only 12 in return. But they found Sverdlovsk Oblast goalie Valeriya Merkusheva in a supremely ungenerous mood. Merkusheva, who just turned 17 at the end of September, is writing a fascinating story in this Women’s Hockey League season, and should be front and centre for Russia when the Under-18 Women’s Worlds roll around. On this day, she made 50 saves, allowing only second-period tallies by Belyakova and Yelizaveta Zenchenko. Shokhina, meanwhile, was held without a point for only the second time this season. Sure, the final score read 2-0 for Tornado, but the real story was Merkusheva, and while this is a back-handed sort of compliment, the result must count as a fairly triumphant one for SKSO.
Normal service was then resumed in the third meeting between the two teams. Shokhina scored four goals, Tornado led 5-0 at the end of the first period, and the final score was 10-2. Of note, Sofiya Senchukova scored twice for SKSO, giving her a point on all three of her team’s goals over the weekend.
So what does it all mean? Well, Tornado’s sweep plus Dynamo’s first-game loss to Agidel mean that Tornado sneak into first place in the standings, with 41 points from 15 games. That puts the defending champs two points up on Dynamo, who have played three more matches. Arktik-Universitet’s six-game winning streak, meanwhile, has hurled them all the way up to a tie for third place with Agidel; both teams are on 21 points, although the latter have played only 12 games to Arktik-Universitet’s 15. Agidel came into the season with high championship hopes, and while those have not been completely dashed, they are hanging by a thread. The Ufans do have three games in hand on Tornado, but they need to win those, sweep the defending champs when they meet again in late November, and hope as well that Tornado slip up somewhere else along the way. A tall order indeed.
As to the individual races, Tornado’s Shokhina and Dergachyova are sprinting away with the points race. Shokhina has 33, Dergachyova 32, and third place is now a tie between their team-mate Belyakova and Arktik-Universitet’s Kadirova, both of whom have 20. Shokhina is also dominating the goals standings; her 18 on the season puts her six ahead of Dergachyova in second place.
The Women’s Hockey League now goes on break until November 8th, as the senior and Under-18 national teams take centre-stage once again; both will be taking part in four-nations tournaments in early November. The senior side will be in Füssen to take on Germany, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland, starting on November 3rd. Beginning on November 4th, the youngsters will be at Tornado’s home rink in Dmitrov, just north of Moscow, to face Finland, Sweden, and Germany. We will look at lineups, and preview those tournaments, in more depth next week.
To the matter of the kitten! Upon exiting the arena on Sunday after their second game against Agidel in Ufa, the Dynamo St. Petersburg players were accosted in the arena parking lot by a small female cat, estimated age two to three months. Said goalie Mariya Sorokina: “We could not leave her in the cold, in the car-park, where she might crawl under the hood of a car searching for warmth.” So off to the hotel went team and cat, the latter to be fed and generally coddled. A long discussion followed within the squad and — accompanied by adorable photographs — on social media about what to do, and about whether the kitten was indeed homeless or had a family somewhere missing her. No evidence that she already had a home could be found, so when the Dynamo-Agidel series wrapped up today, the decision was made: the kitten, now named Zyba, is on her way to St. Petersburg (in care of Sorokina, judging by the pictures). A lovely story (although we must also hope that there is not in fact some poor child in Ufa mourning the loss of his or her kitten)!
That’s probably enough for this week! As mentioned, next week’s update will include a lot of international hockey talk, but we will also get you fully up to date on the schedule for the amateur League of Women’s Hockey. The first games in that competition will start in early November, and we will have all the details. Thank you for reading!