Women’s Hockey Update: Nov. 9th, 2016
A bit behind in the blogging this week — my apologies. We will postpone our usual stroll through the KHL teams until next Monday, and instead get you caught up on what has been going on in Russian women’s hockey. Both the senior and Under-18 national sides were in action last week, as the Women’s Hockey League took a break; read on, to see how they fared (spoiler alert: they fared very well).
Russia’s senior women’s national team took part last week in the Halloween Cup, a four-nations tournament in Füssen, Germany. The host nation was the first opponent for Alexei Chistyakov’s team, and the Russian side put on an attacking display. Lyudmila Belyakova scored twice, her Tornado Moscow Oblast team-mate Yelena Dergachyova did likewise (each also added an assist), and Russia broke things open with three goals in three second-period minutes en route to a 7-3 triumph. Tornado’s Nadezhda Alexandrova picked up the “W” in net.
Game two of the series was a tougher one, with the Czech Republic providing Russia’s opposition. Klara Hymlarova gave the Czechs a first-period lead, but the score was leveled before the end of the first frame by Agidel Ufa’s Anna Shibanova. Matters remained at 1-1 until the third period, when Tornado’s Anna Shokhina struck twice to secure a second straight victory for Russia, this one by a 3-1 score. The victorious Russian netminder this time around was Valeriya Tarakanova of SKIF Nizhny Novgorod.
The two victories gave Russia a chance to clinch the cup by beating Switzerland, but the game would prove to the hardest one yet. Things looked fine for the Russians early on, as Fanuza Kadirova of Arktik-Universitet Ukhta scored twice in the first period before Agidel’s Olga Sosina extended the lead to 3-0 in the second. But perhaps concentration waned a bit at that point. By the time 40 minutes were in the book, goals from Nina Waidacher and Sarah Forster had made it a 3-2 game, and the Swiss completed the comeback early in the third, when Isabel Waidacher scored to tie the game. It was the prodigious Sosina who finally restored order; her goal with ten minutes to play proved the difference in a nail-biting 4-3 Russian victory that secured the tournament title. All three Russian goaltenders got to see action; Biryusa Krasnoyarsk’s Nadezhda Morozova did the honours in the game against Switzerland.
The hiccup against the Swiss notwithstanding, and even noting that the opposition was not perhaps the strongest, a 3-0 record is nothing to be sneezed at. Shokhina’s tournament was particularly impressive, as she posted a line of 3-4-7 over the three games, and Dergachyova (2-4-6) also deserves mention. The Russian women’s national team will be back in action in December, at another four-nations tournament in Sweden.
Russia’s Under-18 team, meanwhile, did not have so far to travel, as their four-nations tournament was played at Tornado Moscow Oblast’s home rink in Dmitrov. Finland, Germany, and Sweden were the guests, and for the Russian girls the tournament opened against the Finns. Valeriya Merkusheva, as expected, got the start in goal for the home side, and the score remained at 0-0 until about the mid-way point of the middle frame. Then, Russia broke things open. Biryusa Krasnoyarsk team-mates Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva and Tatyana Shatalova each recorded a goal and an assist as the young Russians stormed to a 4-0 lead before the end of the second period. The third produced no goals, and 4-0 was the final.
The second game for Russia, against Germany this time, brought more of the same, although this time it was Diana Farkhutdinova entrusted with the goaltending chores. Once again, however, Dobrodeyeva and Shatalova produced a goal and an assist each in the second period, and once again the final score read 4-0 for Russia.
Russia’s final opponent of the weekend was Sweden, who came into the encounter with a win and an overtime loss from their first two games. With Merkusheva back between the pipes, two quick goals mid-way through from Tornado’s Alyona Starovoitova gave Russia a 2-0 lead heading into the final frame. A late goal from Maja Nyhlén-Persson, the first that Russia had given up in 178 minutes of tournament action, meant that the last two minutes were tense ones. However, Merkusheva and Russia held on to take the win, and the four-nations title, with a 2-1 victory.
As we noted last week, this tournament likely provided a decent preview of Russia’s final roster for January’s U18 Women’s World Championship. Merkusheva, with her near-perfect performance over two games, did little to dispel that notion that she will be Russia’s starting goalie in that tournament, and some of her colleagues stood out as well. Shatalova led all scorers with five points (2-3-5), and Dobrodeyeva and Starovoitova mustered four apiece. Also a contributor was Team Russia’s captain, “veteran” blueliner Nina Pirogova, who barring injury will take part in her fourth U18 Worlds in a couple of months; the Tornado Moscow Oblast player recorded three assists over the weekend, including setting up both of Starovoitova’s goals in the final game.
All-in-all, it must go down as a very successful tournament for head coach Yevgeny Bobariko’s team, especially as both Sweden and Finland (and perhaps even Germany), figure to be among Russia’s top rivals for a podium spot at the Worlds.
So, a 6-0 week for the combined national teams, and the players then returned home to resume Women’s Hockey League play. Yesterday saw the first game of three between Agidel Ufa and Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, at the latter’s Siberian home. Every point is vital now for title-aspiring Agidel, who found themselves in fourth place coming in to these games and 20 points adrift of first. The Ufans made sure to take all three points in the first game against Biryusa; while the home side did lead 3-2 after 20 minutes, Agidel scored three times in the second period and added a third-period marker as well in taking it 6-3. Veteran forward Yekaterina Smolentseva recorded three assists for the victors. Game 2 between the two teams today saw Agidel carry a 3-2 lead into the waning moments of the third, and it appeared that they had another regulation victory sewed up. But Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva, fresh off her above-mentioned fine performance for the U18 national squad, played heroine for Biryusa, tying the game at 19:58 of the final frame. Olga Sosina, ever dangerous, rescued the win and two points for Agidel by scoring in overtime — we will see whether they come to rue that third point taken from them by Dobrodeyeva’s goal. The two wins (the teams will meet again on Friday) did propel Agidel back into third place, and the gap between them and league-leading Tornado Moscow Oblast is now 15.
Today also the opener of a three-game set in Sverdlovsk Oblast, with winless home side SKSO facing SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. And it also saw another excellent outing for a recent member of the Under-18 squad. Goalie Valeriya Merkusheva, whose name is cropping up in these posts more and more frequently as the season rolls along, produced another 50-save game, as SKSO were outshot 55-12 but lost only by 2-0. One of these days, Merkusheva is going to steal a win for her beleaguered team… The two clubs will meet again on Thursday and Friday.
The upshot of the league action so far this week is that Tornado, who will begin a series against Arktik-Universitet in Ukhta on Saturday, remain in first place with 41 points. That puts them two ahead of Dynamo St. Petersburg, but Tornado do have three games in hand. Dynamo’s next action comes on November 19th, when they visit Tornado to open an obviously very important series.
And that was about all the action for this week! Next Tuesday, we will get you caught up on the Women’s Hockey League action between now and then, and also on the opening games of the amateur League of Women’s Hockey. The first matches in Group A (the Moscow-based teams) will commence on Saturday. Thank you for reading!