Women’s Hockey Update: March 1st, 2017
As discussed here last week, the 2016-17 Women’s Hockey League championship has been decided, with Tornado Moscow Oblast the winner for the third straight season. There is still hockey to be played, and standings places to be decided, in the league. Read on, as we discuss those, take a look at some interesting expansion news, and cover a couple of other items as well!
Just one series to look at in the Women’s Hockey League this time around, and it featured two of the three teams battling for fourth place. Game 1 of the three-game set between Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and visiting Arktik-Universitet Ukhta was a thriller; Arktik-Universitet’s Hungarian forward, Alexandra Husak, gave her team a lead three minutes in, and then goalie Alyona Kropachyova spent the next 50 minutes staving off a blistering Biryusa assault on her net. She would finish with 44 saves, but it was not enough. Biryusa’s Lidiya Malyavko equalized with only six minutes left, and only a couple of minutes after that, up popped Yekaterina Lobova with the winner for the Siberians. 2-1 the final in Biryusa’s favour.
The second match of the set featured an unlikely heroine for the Krasnoyarsk team. Forward Tatyana Shatalova is a feature player for Russia’s Under-18 national team, but she had scored just four goals in 27 league games coming in. However, in this game she put her team in front mid-way through the first period, and her second of the night doubled the advantage before the first frame was over. Arktik-Universitet fought back, and the dangerous Fanuza Kadirova reduced the arrears eight minutes into the second. No matter; Yelena Podkammenaya made it 3-1 just a few minutes later, and the final 28 minutes of the game played out with out further scoring. Two wins in two tries for Biryusa, and a firmer grip on that fourth spot in the standings.
Game 3 was another tight one, Yelena Mezentseva putting Biryusa ahead 13 minutes in only for Kadirova to tie things up six minutes later. The second period went much like the first had; Yekaterina scored for the Krasnoyarsk side to give them the lead once again, and once again Kadirova struck before the end of the period to level the game. The 2-2 score held up through the final frame, and then through overtime, and so the dreaded shootout was brought into play. The two goalies — Kropachyova for Arktik-Universitet and Nadezhda Morozova for Biryusa — were ungenerous, and it took until the seventh round of shots for either one of them to be beaten. Finally, Malyavko got a puck past Kropachyova, and Birysa made it three wins out of three, albeit this one of the two-point, rather than three-point variety.
The results left the Women’s Hockey League standings looking like so (points in the far right column):
With six games left, Biryusa have their noses in front for fourth place, but it is still far from a sure thing — especially as Biryusa’s next three contests are on the road in Ufa against Agidel, who themselves are trying to make sure of the silver medal. SKIF Nizhny Novgorod’s next series, meanwhile, is at home against last-place and still winless SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, so they can certainly make up some ground this weekend. And Arktik Universitet aren’t completely out of the fourth-place race either, although they will have their hands full hosting another silver-medal hopeful in Dynamo St. Petersburg.
All those series begin this Thursday or Friday, and will wrap up by March 6th. On March 9th the final three-game sets of the 2016-17 season begin, but we will have another update here before that.
There was some interesting news this week regarding the future of the Women’s Hockey League, in particular with regards to expansion (h/t to Vorky). Kunlun Red Star Beijing, the new flagship Chinese team in the KHL (and a reminder here that the KHL operates the Women’s Hockey League), has enjoyed a quite successful first season despite a few bumpy bits here and there. Now Kunlun Red Star is looking to take the next step as an organization, starting up a farm team in the VHL, a junior team in the MHL, and a women’s team in the Women’s Hockey League (you should check out some of the names that KRS have hired for their International Advisory Board — Phil Esposito* and Mike Keenan are just two of the better-known ones).
There is still a long way to go before we can even pencil the team in for next season, and it is interesting that the Women’s Hockey League is not mentioned in the English version of the above-linked article (the women’s team is, so it is quite possible that this is simply a matter of something being lost in translation). However, Kunlun Red Star are clearly serious about this, as they have already hired a coach for their planned women’s team. Margaret Degidio “Digit” Murphy is a famous figure in NCAA hockey, having coached the Brown University women’s team for 18 seasons after a stellar playing career at Cornell. She has also coached in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, leading the Boston Blades to Clarkson Cup championships in 2013 and 2015. From the sounds of things, she will coach not only the Kunlun Red Star women’s squad, but also the Chinese Under-18 national side.
For now, we wait for further details on this very interesting project. There is some urgency here, as the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are not so very far away. China’s women’s national team finished fourth at the 1993 and 1997 World Championships, and matched that at the 1998 Olympics. In recent years, however, it has fallen back; ranked 16th in the world at this point, Team China now plays in the IIHF’s Division IB (i.e. the third tier of international women’s hockey).
* There is an interesting anecdote about Phil Esposito and Russian women’s hockey. When the Arktik-Universitet Ukhta team was founded in 2012, in the far-northern Komi Republic, Esposito was invited to the club’s grand opening gala. Big Phil duly attended, along with some other famous hockey figures like Vladimir Petrov (who passed away this week, and whose obituary you can read here). Esposito talked to audiences about the Summit Series, had his picture taken with the new team, and generally had a cheerful time in Ukhta. It was sweet moment, and you can see more pictures of the occasion here, here, and here.
I mentioned the CWHL above, and that brings us to the next story. The 2017 winner of the Clarkson Cup will be determined this coming Sunday, when the Montreal Canadiennes take on the defending-champion Calgary Inferno in Ottawa. There is a Russian connection here: star national team forward Iya Gavrilova played her rookie CWHL campaign in 2016-17 for Calgary.
Gavrilova, who graduated from a spectacular career in CIS hockey with the University of Calgary last year, had a very solid first season in the CWHL. She scored 11-10-21 in 20 games for the powerhouse Inferno, fourth on her team and ninth in the league in points. She was also an important part of Calgary’s tough semi-final victory over the Toronto Fury. The best-of-three series went the distance, but Gavrilova scored a goal in each of the three games to help ensure that her team advanced.
You can check the CWHL’s YouTube channel for upcoming information on the streaming of Sunday’s Final.
We’ll finish this one off with a return to Russia, and a checking-in with the amateur League of Women’s Hockey. Last week we noted that Malakhit Yekaterinburg had won their preliminary group, Group Г, and so qualified for the national amateur championship tournament to be held in Sochi later this spring (six teams — the top squad in each of the four groups plus the two best second-place teams — will make up the Sochi field, up from four at last year’s nationals). This week, it was the turn of Group B, the Siberian group, which held its second and final qualifying tournament in Novokuznetsk.
Home side Kuznechanka and Grizli-1 Novosibirsk were tied on points after the first qualifying games late last year, so the meeting between the two was going to be key this time around. And it was indeed a close affair when the teams met on Saturday. In the end, Grizli-1 got goals from Natalya Trunova and Olga Kochneva, plus a sterling performance by goalie Darya Shamovskaya, and came away the winners by a score of 2-0. In doing so, they clinched a trip to the national championship in Sochi; they also went to the nationals last season, and finished as silver medalists behind Grad-1 Moscow
And then the shock of the tournament occurred. Lurking just behind the top two had been Sobol Irkutsk, and on Sunday against Kuznechanka, they pounced. The two teams went scoreless into the very last minute of game, before Yevgeniya Zheludkova scored the winner for Sobol, with goalie Alexandra Lemesheva earning the shutout. It was heartbreak for third-place Kuznechanka, because the result ensured Sobol of one of those second-place tickets to Sochi; they will join Grizli-1 at the national amateur championship tournament on the Black Sea coast. Sibirskie-Khaski Novosibirsk, Yugorchanka Surgut, and Grizli-2 Novosibirsk finished fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively.
So with Malakhit, Grizli-1, and Sobol now booked for the nationals, that leaves three spots open. Grad-1 Moscow have nearly secured top spot in Group A, with just a couple of games to go there (Group A, based entirely in Moscow and vicinity, does not need to carry out its qualifying in a tournament format — the teams play a normal “regular season”). Group Б’s final qualifying tournament will get underway on March 11th in St. Petersburg.
And that is all for this week! Assuming nothing else crops up in the meantime, the next post here will be an update on the ongoing KHL playoffs, either tomorrow or on Friday. We will check back in with the Women’s Hockey League after this weekend’s action but before the last series of the season start next week. Thank you for reading!