Women’s Hockey Update: Nov. 30th, 2016
This was an eventful week in Russian women’s hockey, and unfortunately we will begin with some very tragic news. However, there are also happier matters to look at, including some remarkable results both in the Women’s Hockey League and on the amateur side of things, so do read on…
(a quick technical note: the “translate link” function of Google Translate seems to have quit on me this evening, so most of the links in the article are to pieces in their original Russian. You will have to take my word for it that they so in fact say what I say that they say.)
There was some shockingly sad news this week from the world of Russian women’s hockey, with the announcement of the death, at the age of only 44, of former SKIF Nizhny Novgorod and Russian national team forward Lyudmila Yurlova. Yurlova, along with her husband and the couple’s four-year-old son, died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a fire at their apartment complex in Khimki, just outside Moscow to the northwest. Moscow Oblast prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the incident, looking at the possibility of negligence.
Lyudmila Yurlova began her hockey career in the form of the sport known as “bandy,” playing for her hometown Burevestnik Arkhangelsk team and later for Oktyabr Moscow; with the latter she won a national championship and a World Cup. Yurlova switched to puck hockey in 1993, making her one of the real pioneers of the women’s game in Russia. In the course of her career, she won eight national championships with HK SKIF (based first in Moscow and subsequently in Nizhny Novgorod). She was also a member of the Russian national team at two World Championships, winning a bronze medal — the country’s first top-three finish at the Worlds — in 2001. Yurlova was twice awarded, once for bandy and once for puck hockey, the title of Master of Sport of International Class.
The Ministry of Sport, the Russian Bandy Federation, and the Russian Hockey Federation have expressed their condolences, with the latter organization also announcing financial aid for Yurlova’s mother. Plaudits and tributes to her have also been pouring in from former team-mates, her old SKIF club, and both the professional and the amateur women’s leagues in Russia. Olga Votolovskaya, head of women’s hockey at the Russian Hockey Federation, described her as a “very strong player,” and as a “cheerful and lively young woman.” And I would like to take this opportunity to extend my own condolences to the friends, family, and colleagues of Lyudmila Yurlova.
Wearing black armbands in honour of Yurlova, SKIF took the ice at home yesterday for the second game of their three-match Women’s Hockey League set against Arktik-Universitet Ukhta. The first, on Monday, had been settled in SKIF’s favour via a Polina Bolgareva goal in the shoot-out after a 1-1 tie; goalies Valeriya Tarakanova (28 saves for SKIF) and Alyona Kropachyova (23 for Arktik-Universitet) were the main actors in that one. In Game 2, the teams traded the lead back and forth in the opening forty minutes, and entered the final frame knotted at three apiece (Fanuza Kadirova and Alexandra Husak had three points apiece for Arktik-Universitet by that point). SKIF dominated the third period, outshooting their visitors 12-3, but could not find a way past Kropachyova, and off we went once again to the shootout. There, Arktik-Universitet got their revenge, as Liana Ganeyeva scored the winner and rewarded her goalie for the late-game heroics. The rubber match of the series will take place on Thursday.
In St. Petersburg, meanwhile, home team Dynamo were showing no mercy whatsoever to lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, in a series that began on Sunday. Game 1 finished 9-0 to Dynamo, with Svetlana Kolmykova’s four points (2+2) the key contribution. Game 2 was actually worse for the visitors, as Dynamo found the net 12 times without response; Kolmykova put up another four points, while Yevgeniya Dyulina scored a hat-trick. And the St. Petersburg team finished a complete and utter sweep with another 9-0 victory in Game 3, as Alena Polenska scored twice and added four assists. Of note: SKSO were without their superb young goalie Valeriya Merkusheva for this trip, which doubtless did not help. I am not sure whether her absence was due to injury, or simply a precautionary move as the Under-18 Women’s World Championship approaches (Merkusheva will be key to Russia’s hopes at that event).
But the most anticipated action of the week began on Monday in Ufa, as Agidel welcomed defending champions, and runaway league leaders this season, Tornado Moscow Oblast. Agidel desperately needed a sweep of the three-game series to have any faint hope of catching Tornado, but it took the Ufans until the middle of Game 1 to get rolling. It was friend of the blog Yekaterina Ananyina who opened the scoring for Agidel, and they added a second just before the end of the middle frame courtesy of Anna Fagina (Elina Mitrofanova was much involved, drawing assists on both goals). And though a 2-0 lead is hardly safe against Tornado, Agidel goalie Anna Prugova, just back from injury, made sure it stood up this time. She slammed the door completely in the third, and Yekaterina Lebedeva added a third into the empty net with just five seconds left. Three-nil the final, and Agidel had the opening result that they needed.
If anything, the home side was even more impressive in Tuesday’s second encounter between the two teams. The formidable Olga Sosina had been kept off the scoresheet for Agidel in the first game, but she rectified that problem with a goal just half a minute into Game 2, and veteran defender Anna Shchukina doubled Agidel’s lead before the midway point of the first period. The Ufans kept coming in the middle period; both Lebedeva and Yekaterina Smolentseva tallied in the first four minutes of it, and — incredibly — Agidel weren’t finished. Lebedeva struck yet again before the end of the second period, and the score read 5-0 after forty minutes. Tornado pulled goalie Nadezhda Alexandrova in favour of Yelizaveta Kondakova, but it was far too late, and after Yekaterina Solovyova had added to the rout with a third-period goal, the final score was an unlikely 6-0. Prugova, once again, kept the clean sheet, stopping 37 shots (Agidel had 38 on the day). While Agidel were certainly known to be capable of beating Tornado, I don’t think anyone predicted a 9-0 aggregate over two games. The final game of the series, still of vital importance, takes place on Thursday.
So perhaps we have a title race after all. Dynamo remain in second place, eight points behind Tornado with one more game played, while Agidel are in third, 15 points out. But — and this is the important bit — Agidel also have three games in hand on Tornado. Should they win on Thursday and take all three of those in-hand matches in regulation, the team from Ufa will be only three points out of first place. It remains a long shot: Agidel will need to be nearly perfect the rest of the way, while Tornado, once Thursday’s contest is over, will no games left against a team higher than fourth place in the standings. However, there is certainly some intrigue to look forward to.
Off the ice, there was an interesting player move in the Women’s Hockey League this past week, as 28-year-old forward Yekaterina Smolina departed Dynamo St. Petersburg for Djurgårdens IF of the Svenska Damhockeyligan (the Swedish Women’s Hockey League). Smolina, born in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, has represented Russia at two Olympics (2006 and 2014) and numerous World Championships over the past ten years. She scored 2-7-9 in 14 games for Dynamo this season before the move, and had a very impressive 2015-16 campaign indeed: 23 gp, 14-19-33.
Smolina has now played three games for her new club, and has recorded her first point (an assist) in Sweden. The move to Djurgårdens, incidentally, makes her the first Russian player in the Swedish women’s league (h/t to Arto Palovaara for that bit of info).
Dynamo St. Petersburg also acquired a player this past week, signing 18-year-old defender Mariya Pugina out of SKIF’s youth system. Pugina got into nine games (one assist) for SKIF’s senior squad last season, and played for Russia at the U18 Worlds, but had not cracked the Women’s Hockey League roster this season. However, she has now; Pugina played in all three of Dynamo’s routs of SKSO, and got her name on the scoresheet with an assist.
There was some rather intriguing off-ice news for Russian women’s hockey in general this week as well: the Russian Ministry of Sport has announced the resumption in 2017 of subsidy-payments to women’s hockey clubs. MinSport previously had subsidized women’s hockey from 2011 to 2014. Exactly which clubs will be eligible remains to be learned, but it is interesting that the idea of reinstating the subsidies seems to have come, per the linked article, from Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin himself, who commented on the need for government aid at April meeting of the Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. We await further details on this story.
Back to the ice, and specifically to Kazan, where the first qualifying tournament for the amateur League of Women’s Hockey, Group Г, took place last weekend (the second Group Г qualifying round will be held early next year, also in Kazan, with a trip to the national championship tournament at stake). Hosts Forvard Kazan, who won this group last season, along with former professional club Tyumenskie Lisitsy (the “Tyumen Foxes”), had to be considered favourites going in, but something of an upset was on the cards…
The tournament was somewhat fraught with forfeited games. Tyumenskie Lisitsy were stripped of two victories for using an ineligible player, but got one of those back with a subsequent forfeit victory over Soyuz Penza (the Penza side was unable, due to player suspension, to ice enough players for the game to go ahead). However, a lot of hockey got played, and when the ice-chips had settled, it was brand-new team Malakhit Yekaterinburg, founded just last year, who were sitting atop the table. They did benefit from one of those forfeits by Tyumenskie Lisitsy, but were full value in their other three games; Malakhit conceded only three goals in those, and came away with two wins and a draw.
Group B of the League of Women’s Hockey will get their first qualifying tournament underway on Friday in Novosibirsk. Six teams will be taking part in that one:
- Grizli-1 & Grizli-2 Novosibirsk
- Sibirskie Khaski Novosibirsk
- Kuznechanka Novokuznetsk
- Sobol Irkutsk
- Yugorchanka Surgut
In next week’s post, we will bring you up to date on what happened in that tournament. It should be noted that Grizli-1 were silver medalists in the amateur national championship last season.
I had mentioned last week that we would be taking a look at the Kazakh and Latvian women’s championships. However, a lot happened this week, and as this post is thus running a bit long, we will put off our tour until next time. Thank you for reading!