Women’s Hockey Update: Nov. 22nd,2016
The big news from the wider world of women’s hockey this week was not of the good variety; in case you missed it, the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League announced steep, immediate, and unilateral cuts to player salaries to enable the four-team circuit to continue to operate. The NWHL, you may recall, is the league in which Lyudmila Belyakova (now of Tornado Moscow Oblast) and Yekaterina Smolentseva (Agidel Ufa) played last season, although it currently has no Russian players. For more details on what is happening in the NWHL, I refer you to this excellent article at The Ice Garden, which includes a timeline of events and a number of informative links. And read on here, for a recap of an important series in the Russian Women’s Hockey League, a dramatic tournament finale at the amateur level, and an overseas update.
There was just one series in the Women’s Hockey League this past week, but it was a big one, as second-place Dynamo St. Petersburg traveled to Dmitrov for three games against league-leaders (and two-time defending champions) Tornado Moscow Oblast. The visitors really needed a sweep here, trailing Tornado by ten points coming in, but there was some ominous news for Dynamo even before the opening faceoff: their hosts welcomed back first-line forward Alevtina Shtaryova after a month’s absence due to injury.
Game 1 saw Dynamo take the lead early, through Russian national team defender Yekaterina Nikolayeva, but Lyudmila Belyakova leveled for Tornado before the end of the first period. Early in the second, league-leading goalscorer Anna Shokhina put the defending champions ahead, before Shtaryova celebrated her return to action by making it 3-1. Nothing daunted, Dynamo narrowed the gap thanks to an Alyona Andryushchenko goal just seconds after Shtaryova’s marker, but Belyakova made the lead two again with her second of the game. As the third period opened, Dynamo once again closed in, as Alena Polenska made the score 4-3, but that was as close as the visitors would get. Belyakova completed her hat-trick late on, and Tornado took the opener by a 5-3 score. Despite the loss, it was not a bad performance by Dynamo, even if the shot counter (28-13 for Tornado) suggested that it was not as close as it appeared.
“Close,” however, could certainly describe Game 2. Once again, Dynamo found themselves with a 1-0 first-period lead, as Svetlana Tkachenko found the net for a shorthanded marker. And then the two goalies — Russian national team regulars Nadezhda Alexandrova of Tornado and Dynamo’s Mariya Sorokina — went to work. They did so well, in fact, that the game was mid-way through the third period before another goal was scored; Belyakova found the net for the fourth time in the two games, tying the score at 1-1 as her 19th tally of the season got her to within one of team-mate Shokhina for the league lead. Off to overtime we went, and there heartbreak awaited Dynamo. At, quite literally, the very last possible second, Yelena Dergachyova got the puck past Sorokina, giving Tornado a 2-1 overtime victory. Shots again favoured the home side, but this time only by 23-21.
Having, by their standards, stumbled somewhat in Game 2, Tornado were back on form in the series’ closing match, as they fired 30 shots at Sorokina while allowing only 13 for Alexandrova to deal with. Even so, the game went scoreless into the middle frame, before Angelina Goncharenko put Tornado up 1-0. Shokhina doubled the lead shortly thereafter with her 21st of the season, and six minutes into the third, veteran forward Galina Skiba put the cap on a 3-0 victory. Yelena Dergachyova, the overtime heroine of Game 2, assisted on all three of Tornado’s goals, and her line of 21 gp, 14-29-43 has her only a point behind Shokhina (21 gp, 21-23-44) for the league points lead.
So what does it all mean? Well, Tornado now have a 17-point lead atop the table, with 15 games to go, so it is safe to say that they have both hands on a third straight championship; extraordinary results will be required if they are to be caught. Dynamo remain in second place, but are only four points ahead of Agidel Ufa and have played three more games. The next action in the Women’s Hockey League commences this coming Sunday, when Dynamo start a three-game series at home against lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast. On Monday next, another huge trio of games will begin as Tornado travel to Ufa to face Agidel, and SKIF Nizhny Novgorod will welcome Arktik-Universitet Ukhta for a visit that will go a long way towards determining fourth place in the league.
The Women’s Hockey League will hold its first ever All-Star Game this coming January, as part of the KHL’s All-Star Week festivities in Ufa. The game will take place on January 19th, and full details of the event can be seen here (team selections will be made by the league, so no fan voting unfortunately).
There was plenty of drama to be had in the amateur League of Women’s Hockey this week as well, as the Group Б tournament went ahead in Leningrad Oblast. Five teams were on hand to compete for a berth in the national championship tournament in Sochi: Groza-1 and Groza-2 St. Petersburg, Shturm Pskov, Tigritsy Amura Khabarovsk, and ZHK Nikolai Liu from Ukhta.
The Ukhta side (named after one of the founders of women’s hockey in that city) and Groza-1 quickly separated themselves from the pack; they met on the tournament’s last day with 3-0 records, and first place on the line. ZHK Nikolai Liu appeared to have the game sewn up, leading 5-3 with less than five minutes on the clock. However, Groza-1 pulled within one, and evened the game with 10 seconds left thanks to a goal by Viktoriya Senotrusova. No overtime or shootouts in this tournament, so the final result stood as 5-5. Groza-1 technically finished with a better goal difference, giving them top spot in the tournament, but both teams will be on their way to the national championship in Sochi. You can see full highlights of the game here.
League of Women’s Hockey action resumes this coming weekend (Saturday, to be precise), when Group Г’s tournament begins in Kazan. Participating teams are: Angely Kirov, Malakhit Yekaterinburg, Soyuz Penza, Forvard Kazan, and Tyumenskie Lisitsy (Tyumen).
We will finish with a quick update on the two Russian players in the Canadian leagues. Forward Iya Gavrilova, playing her rookie season in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, broke a three-game point-less streak on Sunday when she registered a goal and an assist to help the league-leading Calgary Inferno down the Brampton Thunder 4-1. The 28-year-old from Krasnoyarsk now has a line of 6 gp, 2-3-5, and is tied for 16th in league points despite having played fewer than most of the players in the top 20.
Forward Alexandra Vafina, meanwhile, is playing in the Canadian University league for the Calgary Dinosaurs. The U. of C. has struggled this year (they’re currently 1-11), but Vafina leads the team in goals and points (12 gp, 4-3-7), and is one of only two players on the squad with a plus-minus greater than 0 (she’s +3). So, a decent campaign under some trying circumstances.
That is about it for this week; next Tuesday’s we will get you caught up on the latest action at both the pro and amateur levels, and also take a quick peek at what is happening in the women’s hockey leagues of Latvia and Kazakhstan, both of whose 2016-17 seasons are either just underway or imminent. Thank you for reading!