Women’s Hockey Update: February 6th, 2017
In this update, we’re off to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where the 2017 Winter Universiade has been taking place. The Russian women’s hockey team won gold at this competition in Spain in 2015, and so were on a quest for a repeat. The above highlight video from today’s women’s final will tell you whether they succeeded, and you can read on for a longer look at how things went!
As we talked about last time, this was a powerful Russian team selected for this tournament. A large number of the players on Russia’s full women’s national team attend university, making them eligible for the Universiade, and we will see a very significant proportion of this lineup when this year’s IIHF Women’s World Championship rolls around. While a repeat of 2015’s gold medal was far from automatic (the danger of short tournaments), it was certainly well within reach.
Team Russia was slotted into Group B for the opening stage of the tournament, the U.S. and Japan providing the opposition. The Americans were first up, with a team drawn from the American Collegiate Hockey Association (a step or two below the NCAA, more or less). It would be an interesting test for Team Russia — one they passed with flying colors. An Anna Shokhina goal and a pair from Fanuza Kadirova gave Russia a 3-0 first-period lead before Shokhina’s second stretched that advantage to four early in the middle frame. The U.S. pulled one back thanks to Kathleen Ash, but Russia answered in turn as Olga Sosina, Alexandra Vafina, and Yevgeniya Dyupina all found the net in a 7-1 victory. In goal, Mariya Sorokina had a quiet game, facing only nine shots. Her team-mates, meanwhile, fired 65 at American goalie Amber Greene, who deserves all kinds of credit for a stalwart performance.
With that promising beginning, Team Russia turned its attention to Japan. Head coach Alexei Chistyakov, looking to spread the experience around, went with Nadezhda Morozova in goal, but once again it would be the scorers who dominated the headlines. Russia led 5-0 by the end of the first period, and 7-1 after Mayo Sakamoto scored for Japan in the second. Three more Russian goals followed in the final frame for a 10-1 scoreline at the end, echoed by a 66-10 advantage on the shot clock. Sosina and Anna Shibanova, team-mates at Agidel Ufa of the Women’s Hockey League, each recorded a hat-trick in the win; Shibanova added three assists for a six-point game. The victory clinched top spot in Group B, and so it was on the semifinal.
Russia’s semifinal opponent on Saturday was Team China, who had finished in second place in the four-team Group A behind Canada. For the third straight game, Chistyakov switched up his goalies, this time starting young Valeriya Tarakanova. She was hardly given a workout, however, as the game was over as a contest brutally early. Mariya Batalova put Russia up 1-0 a minute and a half in, and by the time another 13 minutes had ticked by, they had added six more. Although Guan Yingying scored in the second to give China at least something to celebrate, Russia promptly added another three and then shut things down in the final frame to emerge once again as 10-1 winners. Among the many offensive contributors on the day were Batalova (1-3-4) and Yelena Dergachyova (1-4-5), while Alevtina Shtaryova and Fanuza Kadirova each recorded two goals.
In the other semifinal, meanwhile, Team Canada had overcome the Americans by a score of 8-1, meaning that the gold medal would be contested between two age-old hockey rivals in the Canadians and Russians. The game took place earlier today in Almaty’s Baluan Sholak Arena, which a capacity crowd of 5000 spectators, mostly supporting Russia, packed to the rafters. Sorokina, victrix of the opening game against the U.S., took up station once again in the Russian net. Things had been obviously fairly easy for Team Russia in the tournament to this point, but the opposition, a strong squad drawn from across the Canadian university system, had been similarly dominant; Team Canada had out-scored its opponents 42-2 over four games coming into the final.
Russia spent most of the first ten minutes of the gold medal game shorthanded, and — not for the last time on the night — the penalty-killers and Sorokina came up big, keeping the game scoreless. Halfway through the opening period, with her team enjoying a powerplay of its own, Sosina got Russia on the board, bearing down on the defense and wristing a shot just under the crossbar behind University of Guelph goalie Valerie Lamenta. The Canadians protested, but the video shows that the puck indeed entered the net. One-nil to Russia, and the team captain was not finished. As the first period ticked towards its close, Sosina drew two defenders to her deep in the Canadian zone and then found Lyudmila Belyakova alone in front. The Tornado Moscow Oblast forward made no mistake, and Russia led by two at the first intermission.
Some hope arrived for Canada mid-way through the second period: Kelty Apperson of St. Thomas University kept the puck on a long two-on-one and wristed a far-side shot past Sorokina to make the score 2-1. But the indefatigable Sosina quickly restored a two-goal advantage, as her shot from a tough angle just five minutes later seemed to fool Lamenta.
At this point the game took a turn for the controversial, with the officiating firmly in the spotlight. Beginning late in the second period and stretching well into the third, Team Russia found itself playing shorthanded for 11 minutes out of 12, and down two players for five of those minutes. But once again the Russian penalty-killers and Sorokina rose to the occasion, and remarkably the score still stood at 3-1 when the parade to the box finally ended. And shortly thereafter Alevtina Shtaryova applied the dagger on a rare Russian powerplay, shoveling home from the edge of the crease to make it 4-1. Late on the Canadians were given one last powerplay, but despite pulling Lamenta to play six-on-four, they could not get the puck behind Sorokina. The final score stood at 4-1 for the Russians, and a second straight gold medal was theirs.
Sosina’s three points were obviously very key to Russia’s victory, but much of the credit must also go to the penalty-killers. The numbers are frankly ridiculous: Russia was assessed 14 minor penalties (plus a late misconduct to Shibanova, who had had enough and said so), compared to only six for Canada, and furthermore spent more than six minutes two players short. Despite the numerous opportunities, however, the Canadian powerplay failed to record even a single goal, while Russia tallied twice while playing five-on-four.
Angelina Goncharenko was the main target of the officials, being whistled for four of those 14 minors, and she was in a fiery mood after the game. “[The referees] murdered us,” said the Tornado Moscow Oblast defender, among other comments, “but we didn’t give up the gold to Canada.” Indeed, although the Russian players certainly earned some of the penalties that were called, others were of a distinctly “soft” variety. And a number of fouls against Russian players, in particular a very nasty third-period hit on Sosina, went unpunished. So Goncharenko had some justification behind her ire.
However, anger over the officiating may be safely left aside; Team Russia is a two-time Universiade women’s hockey gold medal-winner, and was full value for that triumph. Over the four games of the tournament, Russia outscored her opponents by 31-4 in total, and led on the shot clock by wide margins in all four games (even with all the penalties, the shots in the final were 36-26 for Russia at the end). Dissenters may argue that neither the U.S. nor Canada sent full-strength national teams (eligibility rules played a role, if only a partial one, in that), and that other traditional hockey powers like Finland, Sweden, and Czechia did not send women’s teams at all, while Russia arrived with roughly 80% of her top roster. True, but hardly the fault of Team Russia; one can only play the opponents one is given to play. And the 2017 gold medal shows beyond a doubt that 2015’s victory was far from a fluke. The Russian women’s national team should be a formidable handful next time out at this competition as well; the 2019 Winter Universiade will be in Russia, in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk — the country’s first-ever hosting of the event.
As a final Universiade note, the Russian men’s team, themselves defending gold medalists, are doing just fine as well. They will take on Canada in the semifinal tomorrow, with the medal games to follow on Wednesday. I will update you later this week on how it all works out for them.
The Universiade players now get a well-deserved opportunity to put their feet up for a little while, but there is more international women’s hockey to come very soon. Starting on Friday in Finland is a three-nations tournament involving Russia, Sweden, and the hosts. The Russian Hockey Federation has selected a team that includes most of the top players from the Under-18 side that recently won World Championship bronze, along with a number of veterans who were ineligible for the Universiade tournament, with U18 head coach Yevgeny Bobariko in charge. The final squad for the tournament has not yet been named, but a complete camp roster can be seen here (in Russian, as Google Translate does terrible things to names). Russia will play Finland twice, and the Swedes once, as part of the tournament.
With all of the international play going on, the Women’s Hockey League is of course on break. Action on that circuit will resume on February 15.
That will about do for this week. In the next update, we will get you caught up on that tournament in Finland, along with any other matters that may arise! We will also bring you up to date on what has been going on in the amateur League of Women’s Hockey, as teams there look to qualify for the national championship tournament. Thank you for reading!