Russia at the 2017 U18 Women’s Worlds
Hardly has one international youth hockey tournament come to an end (some thoughts on Russia’s bronze medal campaign at the 2016-17 World Juniors will be along tomorrow) when another begins: the Under-18 Women’s World Championship gets underway tomorrow in the Czech Republic. Team Russia is coming off a fourth-place finish in 2016, having lost 2-1 to Sweden in the bronze medal game. What does 2017 have in store? Read on!
Rookie head coach Yevgeny Bobariko will take with him to the Czech cities of Zlín and Přerov a mix of returning and new talent. As is always the case at the Under-18 tournament, a couple of key performers have graduated on to the senior women’s national team program, but there is still some World Championship experience to be found on the Team Russia roster. Without further ado then, the chosen 23 (with club teams in brackets):
- Diana Farkhutdinova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Valeriya Merkusheva (SK Sverdlovsk Oblast)*
- Milena Tretyak (Orbita 2002 Zelenograd)
There is a big pair of skates to filled for Russia in goal, with graduation of 2016 tournament MVP Valeriya Tarakanova, but coach Bobariko looks to have a decent replacement in Merkusheva. While her SK Sverdlovsk Oblast club is terrible — 21 losses in 21 Women’s Hockey League games this season, by an average margin of 6.5 goals — Merkusheva can hardly be blamed. She has spent 882 minutes in net this season, giving up 87 goals, while her team has conceded 62 times 387 minutes without her. And earlier this year, against defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast, she stopped 48 shots in a 2-0 loss that must have felt like a triumph to the SKSO players. A precocious young talent indeed as she enters her second Under-18 Worlds.
Sixteen-year-old Farkhutdinova, meanwhile, is a World Championship rookie, but also has professional professional experience; she backs up the afore-mentioned Tarakanova at SKIF, and will probably see some playing time at this tournament. Tretyak (no relation) will be on hand should the injury bug strike.
- Svetlana Bobrova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Anna Klimkina (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)*
- Mariya Kuznetsova (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta)
- Alina Orlova (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta)
- Nina Pirogova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)*
- Yelena Provorova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Anna Savonina (Kristall Elektrostal)
- Darya Zubok (Tornado Moscow Oblast)*
The big name on Russia’s blueline, and possibly on the entire team, is that of Pirogova, who will assume the captaincy for this tournament. The 2016-17 edition will be her fourth trip to the Under-18 Worlds, and she has already appeared at two senior World Championships as well. Playing on the top pair at mighty Tornado, Pirogova has been nearly a point-per-game player (reminder: she plays defence) at the professional level since she was 15 years old, although in fairness quality of team-mates probably helps with that. And she has some edge to her game as well, as she currently sits tied for fifth in the Women’s Hockey League in penalty minutes this season (40 in 25 games).
Among the rest, Klimkina and Zubok, as Under-18 Worlds veterans, will be counted upon heavily. At the other end of the experience scale are Provorova and Savonina, both of whom just turned 15 in the last couple of months. Provorova in particular is one to track now and in future tournaments; despite her tender years, she is already a regular at the professional level, having played 22 games for SKIF this season.
- Darya Beloglazova (Pingvini Hockey School, Moscow)*
- Polina Bolgareva (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)*
- Oksana Bratishcheva (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)*
- Margarita Dorofeyeva (Orbita 2001 Zelenograd)*
- Viktoriya Kulishova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)*
- Yelena Mezentseva (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)
- Mariya Nadezhdina (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Elizaveta Rodnova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod)
- Tatyana Shatalova (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)*
- Olga Shirokova (Orbita 2002 Zelenograd)
- Alyona Starovoitova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
Like the goaltending crew, Russia’s forward group has lost an important contributor from past tournaments; Fanuza Kadirova, who tied for second in points at last year’s Under-18 Worlds with seven, has graduated to the senior program. The most likely players in this group to replace her are Beloglazova and Bolgareva. The former scored five points in six games at the 2016 Worlds, and is still only 16 years old; it is of course early days, but she shows signs of being a genuinely impressive attacking talent. Bolgareva, meanwhile, is having a fine rookie season in the Women’s Hockey League, having scored 10-8-18 in 27 games (that puts her second on her team, and tied for 14th in the entire league, in goals). And she will have plenty of familiar company, as four of her SKIF team-mates join her on the Team Russia forward roster. The Nizhny Novgorod side has embarked on a real youth program in recent seasons, and it is starting to show.
Others to watch include Shatalova and Starovoitova. While neither is particularly tearing up the Women’s Hockey League, both have made impressive showings for the Under-18 team in exhibition tournaments over the past few months. And a player of particular interest is Shirokova, a relatively new addition to the Under-18 set-up. An assistant captain on the Orbita Zelenograd team for boys (!) born in 2002 (she herself is an early 2000 birthday), in 2015-16 she scored 36-57-93… in 28 games. And it was no fluke: this season, she has a line of 6-9-15 in eight games. And she has scored 8-4-12 in four games for Moscow Oblast’s entry in the Russian U18 Girls’ Championship. It should be fun to see how much of that translates to the international level! As a side note, that Orbita 2002 boys’ team has as its goalie Milena Tretyak — see above (forward Margarita Dorofeyeva is also part of the Orbita club, playing on the team for boys born in 2001).
So, what to expect from this tournament? The Russian women’s national teams, both junior and senior, have established themselves as serious yearly bronze medal contenders at the Worlds, and that podium spot, last achieved by the Under-18s in 2015, will like be the goal for Bobariko’s crew this time out as well. The ultimate aim of parity with the North American teams remains some ways off, it must be said. While a win at this tournament over Canada or the United States is not an impossibility (particularly with a goalie of Merkusheva’s capabilities), it would still count as a massive, massive, upset.
Thanks to reaching the semifinals in 2016, Russia will play in Group A in the Czech Republic, along with Canada, the U.S., and Sweden. Team Russia opens on Saturday against the Americans, followed by a Sunday meeting with Team Canada, and group play will wrap up against Sweden on Tuesday. The top two from the group get byes to the semi-finals, and thus automatic spots in 2018’s Group A, while the bottom two will proceed to the quarterfinals to face the top two from Group B (Czech Republic, Finland, Switzerland, and Japan).
All games at the 2017 Under-18 Women’s World Championship will be streamed live at the Youtube channel of the Czech Hockey Federation (many thanks to Denis Osipchuk and Jiří Vítek for that info). And, if you are in geographic range of Zlín or Přerov, you should note that admission to the games is free!
Thank you for reading! And last but certainly not least, to those celebrating Christmas on Saturday, С Рождеством Христовым!