Tornado: Champions Again!
For the third straight season, and the ninth in the last twelve, Tornado Moscow Oblast are Champions of Russia’s Women’s Hockey League. This had been foreseeable for some time, but its mathematical certainty was achieved today. Read on, as we take a look at the championship, other action from around the league, and a few other things as well.
It has been a busy week for the Moscow Oblast team, with six road games in the last nine days, and that stretch began in uncharacteristic fashion. In the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Tornado found their hands full last Wednesday against locals Biryusa. In fact, Tornado trailed 4-3 mid-way through the third before rallying; Alevtina Shtaryova tied things up before the league’s leading scorer, team captain Anna Shokhina, completed a hat-trick with two goals for a 6-4 victory. In the second game of the set, on Thursday, Tornado once again needed a third-period equalizer, and this time got it from Lyudmila Belyakova to send things to overtime at 2-2. But it was Biryusa who prevailed; Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva found the net in extra time to inflict only the fourth loss of the season on Tornado.
That final game of the series was something of a special occasion, as we discussed last week, forming part of the 2017 IIHF Global Girls’ Game. The IIHF’s report on the event, which you can read in full here, read:
“As part of the Russian women’s league, the game between home team Biryusa Krasnoyarsk in blue and Tornado Moscow Region (“Team White”) in Siberia was dedicated as Russia’s Global Girls’ Game and streamed live. You can re-watch the game here. Alevtina Shtaryova gave Team White the lead but Yekaterina Lobova tied it up three minutes later. Lyudmila Belyakova made it 2-1 for the visitors in the second period but at 5:21 of the third Anna Klimkina tied it up. Belyakova scored the game-winning goal for Tornado in the shootout giving Team White a 3-2 win in the Russian game. Among the spectators was the oldest resident of the city, Klaudia Trofimovna Cherkasova, who is also the great-grandmother of Tornado player Alyona Starovoitova, and members of the football team Yenisei Krasnoyarsk fresh from celebrating promotion in the Russian championship.”
From there, Tornado moved on to Yekaterinburg for three games against SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, and the road got considerably easier. SKSO are last in the league, and winless on the season, despite the sterling efforts of young goalie Valeriya Merkusheva. Merkusheva was on her game to open the series against Tornado, facing 61 shots for her over-matched team and stopping 54 of them (it was the seventh time in 30 games that Merkusheva has made 50 or more saves). But Tornado ran out 7-0 winners, with Mariya Kokoshkina’s two goals worthy of note. And from there, the fight went out of SKSO a little bit. Game 2 of the series saw Belyakova score a hat-trick and add two assists en route to the 12-2 Tornado victory. The final match of the trio, played today, was an odd one, as the score stood at just 1-0 for Tornado as the midway point of the second period was neared. From there, though… Tornado led 6-0 by the end of the middle frame, and added another five in the third. Belyakova had another five-point night, veteran Galina Skiba scored a hat-trick along with two assists, defender Nina Pirogova had six points, and Shokhina scored 1-6-7. And with that, the championship was theirs with three games still to play.
Tornado are worthy champions, with a record of 29-4 at this point. 157 goals in 33 games is 25 more than the second-place team in that category, Agidel Ufa, have scored, although we should note that Agidel have played three fewer games. The top three point-scorers in the league are all Tornado players: Shokhina (33 gp, 33-36-69), Yelena Dergachyova (30 gp, 15-42-56), and Belyakova (33 gp, 31-20-51). Agidel’s Olga Sosina also sits on 51 points, with games in hand, and so will have something to say in the scoring race when all is said and done, but Tornado’s attack is virtually peerless. We can add also that the WHL’s top two defense scorers also play out of Moscow Oblast; Pirogova is at 33 gp, 9-24-33, while Angelina Goncharenko has scored 29 gp, 4-19-23. Nor are Tornado a one-trick pony; only Dynamo St. Petersburg (57) have given up fewer goals than the champions’ 64, so credit is due to goalies Nadezhda Alexandrova and Yelizaveta Kondakova too. Finally, it would be remiss not to tip the hat in the direction of head coach Alexei Chistyakov and his staff. Congratulations to all!
The battle for the silver medal was a head-to-head affair this week, as Agidel Ufa travelled to St. Petersburg to face Dynamo in three games. Dynamo were coming off a tough series against SKIF Nizhny Novgorod over the weekend, as SKIF travelled to St. Petersburg in sixth place but showed no sign of inferiority. The Nizhny Novgorod team took Game 1 by a 2-0 score, goalie Valeriya Tarkanova the heroine with 20 saves for the shutout. Dynamo returned the favour in Game 2, winning 5-1 on the strength of a pair of goals by Svetlana Tkachenko. But the rubber match of the series went SKIF’s way, and Tarakanova was key again as she stopped 30 of 31 shots and paced her team to a 2-1 victory. Despite the two losses, those results gave Dynamo a one-point cushion over Agidel, albeit with three more games played.
And when Dynamo and Agidel commenced their three-game series on Monday, the Ufa side quickly snatched second place back. The first game of the series featured a goalie battle; veteran Agidel ‘keeper Anna Prugova and Dynamo’s rookie Tatyana Shchukina, making her first start of the season, matched each other save for save. The game went to a shootout tied 1-1, and it took ten rounds of that before Hungarian forward Fanni Gasparics ended it in Agidel’s favour. Game 2 was more straightforward; four Agidel goals in the first 21 minutes chased Shchukina, and the visitors cruised to a 5-1 victory. Dynamo would get some consolation in the final match of the set, however. Down 2-0 early, they bounced back with goals by Yevgeniya Dyupina and Svetlana Kolmykova to send things to extras at 2-2. The game once again came down to shoot-out, and this time it went Dynamo’s way as Czechia’s Alena Polenská potted the decisive goal. The upshot is that Agidel now have a two-point lead over Dynamo for second place, and have six games remaining to Dynamo’s three.
Prior to their mauling at the hands of Tornado (see above), SK Sverdlovsk Oblast played host last weekend to the northerners of Arktik-Universitet Ukhta, and the series represented a real opportunity for SKSO to break their long losing streak. They couldn’t, in the end, make it happen, but it was a close thing. In Game 1, a third-period goal by Tatyana Shibanova won it 3-2 for Arktik-Universitet, and spoiled yet another excellent performance by Valeriya Merkusheva in the SKSO goal (39 saves on 42 shots). The second game stayed close for a long while, with the Ukhtans ahead just 1-0 after 40 minutes. But they poured in another four goals in the third period to win 5-1. SKSO’s final chance to end the drought, in Game 3, saw them fall behind 3-0 early, then resiliently claw back to 3-2. But Arktik-Universitet, to their own credit, re-established themselves and potted two late goals to win 5-2.
Arktik-Universitet then travelled to Krasnoyarsk to face Biryusa. However, as that series is still ongoing (Biryusa have won the first two games, 2-1 and 3-1), and in the interests of keeping this post a bit shorter, we will discuss that series in detail next week. In the meantime, the standings now look like this:
Tornado, of course, are champions, while Agidel have the inside track on second place and should be able to get themselves a second consecutive silver medal. As for the Dynamo, they will finish at least in the top three, which will represent a best-ever result for the team. The battle to settle fourth, fifth, and sixth should prove an interesting one as well, as we await that long-sought first victory by SKSO.
We’ll finish up with an update on the amateur ranks. Group Г of the League of Women’s Hockey played their final qualifying tournament this past weekend in Kazan, with at stake a berth at the national amateur championship tournament in Sochi later on this spring. Malakhit Yekaterinburg, just founded this year, came in atop the standings from the previous qualifying tournament, but came under heavy pressure from not just second-place Soyuz Penza, but also host team Forvard Kazan. Forvard won the group last season, but had stumbled to fourth out of five in the first qualifying tournament. Tyumenskie Lisitsy from the city of Tyumen and Angeli Kirov made up the rest of the field.
Malakhit stumbled this weekend, going 1-1-2, but they didn’t stumble enough for their rivals. The Yekaterinburg newcomers are off to Sochi, having finished qualifying with 11 points from eight games (the LoWH uses the old 2-1-0 points system, and allows games to finish tied). Soyuz and Forvard finished second and third in the final standings, respectively.
So Malakhit have booked their ticket, and six more teams will are vying for another spot at the Group B final qualifying tournament in Novokuznetsk. The tournament opened today, with home side Kuznechanka and Grizli-1 Novosibirsk tied for top spot. Group Б’s final tournament begins in St. Petersburg on March 11th, while Group A, the Moscow group, will wrap up its qualifying process in early April.
That will do for this week! Next time, we’ll update you on Women’s Hockey League action as the season draws towards its close, recap the amateur qualifying tournament in Novokuznetsk, and take a look at anything else that comes up. Thank you for reading, and congratulations again to Tornado Moscow Oblast!