Women’s Hockey Update: Nov. 17th, 2016
The Women’s Hockey League reached its halfway point this week, with all teams now having played 18 games. When we checked in last time, Agidel Ufa had taken the first two games of their set in Krasnoyarsk against Biryusa, although they needed overtime in the second one. The third and final match of the series went scoreless into the waning minutes, before the teams traded quick goals. Then, in overtime, Biryusa’s Yekaterina Lobova collected the winner, delivering a severe blow to Agidel’s title hopes in the process. Read on, for the rest of the week’s action and a couple of other notes as well!
Both Biryusa and Agidel still had work to do this week. Biryusa, to begin with, remained at home in Krasnoyarsk to welcome SKIF Nizhny Novgorod for a trio of games. In the first, home team goalie Nadezhda Morozova made 16 saves, and Anastasiya Letovaltseva’s second-period marker was all that was required for Biryusa’s 1-0 victory. Morozova maintained her perfect form in the second meeting, this time stopping 27 SKIF shots, while Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva provided two assists to pace the Siberians to a 3-0 victory. Finally, in today’s third game of the set, SKIF solved the Biryusa netminder; Mariya Belova scored twice as the Nizhny Novgorod side dodged the sweep with a 3-1 win.
Agidel, meanwhile, paid a visit to Yekaterinburg to face lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast three times, and the guests proved a merciless bunch in this one. Game One belonged to the fearsome Olga Sosina; her goal and four assists provided the foundation for a 7-1 Agidel triumph. And while young goalie Valeriya Merkusheva has played stalwartly for SKSO this season, she could do little with the Agidel attack in Game Two. Hat-tricks from Hungarian forward Fanny Gasparich and from Slovakia’s Nicol Čupková paced the Ufans to a 10-2 thumping, and they turned the heat up even further in Game 3. Veteran Yekaterina Smolentseva posted a hat-trick of her-own, and four of her Agidel team-mates scored twice apiece, as the final scoreboard read “12-2” in favour of the visitors.
Finally, there was one other series taking place this week, and that one had league-leading Tornado Moscow Oblast in Ukhta to face Arktik-Universitet. After a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, Artik-Universitet have bounced back a bit this time around, and they gave a good accounting of themselves against their powerhouse opponents. In the first game of the series, the defending champions got a goal and two assists from both Anna Shokhina and Yelena Dergachyova, but Tornado were pushed right to the end in taking a narrow 4-3 victory. Game Two saw Arktik-Universitet goalie Anna Vinogradova turn away 25 of 26 shots (her opposite number, Nadezhda Alexandrova, stopped nine of ten), and the two teams ended up in a penalty shootout after regulation time plus overtime could produce only a 1-1 draw. In the skills competition, Mariya Batalova won it for Tornado, but Arktik-Universitet could take solace in at least capturing a single point from the game. The final meeting between the two was more routine; Lyudmila Belyakova scored twice for Tornado, Shokhina added three assists to pad her league lead in points, and the visitors left Ukhta with a 5-1 win in their pockets.
So what does it all mean? Well, Tornado have a comfy ten-point lead atop the standings, with everybody having played the same number of games. However, the defending champions also have an interesting couple of weeks ahead, as their next two series will come against the teams fighting over second place. On Saturday, Tornado begin a three-game series against Dynamo St. Petersburg, and once that is done they will travel to Ufa to face Agidel. We may (or may not, depending on how things go) find much resolved about the final destination of the championship trophy by the time December rolls around.
There is also an entertaining fight on the cards over fourth place, with Arktik-Universitet, SKIF, and Biryusa all within a point of each other. That battle will be resumed on November 28th, when SKIF begin a three-game series at home against Arktik-Universitet. Poor SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, meanwhile, remain lost in the wilderness, with Merkusheva’s goaltending heroics the only bright spot on the season so far.
In the scoring race, Tornado’s Anna Shokhina (18 gp, 19-20-39) is your current pole-sitter, three ahead of team-mate and line-mate Yelena Dergachyova (18 gp, 13-23-36). Behind the Tornado duo are a pair of Agidel players; Olga Sosina (18 gp, 11-19-30) and Yekaterina Smolentseva (18 gp, 12-15-27). Shokhina, it should be noted, also leads the goals race, by four over her Tornado team-mate Lyudmila Belyakova.
A final Women’s Hockey League note for this week: Agidel Ufa have bolstered their team depth by acquiring 18-year-old defender Arina Moleva from SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. Moleva got into six games last season for SKIF’s senior team, but had been purely a youth-team player in the current campaign (hat tip to Denis Osipchuk for that story).
While the professionals are well into their 2016-17 campaign, the amateur League of Women’s Hockey got its season started this past Sunday, with a pair of games involving teams from the Moscow-and-area group (Group A). Last year’s national defending amateur champions, Grad-1 Moscow, saw off newcomers Spartanki Moscow 8-1, while their reserve team (Grad-2) was similarly victorious, 2-1 against another new club in Valkiriya Moscow (Atlant Moscow Oblast are the fifth members of that group, but had no games scheduled this week).
League of Women’s Hockey action will continue in the coming days; on Saturday, Group Б will begin play in Strelna, Leningrad Oblast. Participating teams in that one are HK Nikolai Liu (Ukhta), Shturm Pskov, Tigritsy Amura Khabarovsk, and the the first and second teams from the Groza club in St. Petersburg.
A quick note on the format: when the League of Women’s Hockey regular season is over, the four group winners will meet for the national championship tournament.
And that is about it for this week. The next short stretch is a quiet one in the Women’s Hockey League, with the above-mentioned Tornado-Dynamo series the only on on the cards for the next week. On Tuesday, we will get you caught up on what happened in that, take a quick look at the amateur tournament results from Strelna, and deal with whatever else might crop up in the meantime. Thank you for reading!