Russia at the 2017 Women’s Worlds

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Forward Yekaterina Smolentseva, the last holdover from Russia’s first-ever Women’s Worlds team in 1997, at last week’s training camp for the 2017 tournament (and she did indeed make the final roster).  (Image Source)

The Russian national team’s final roster for the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship has been named!  In fact the team has departed from its training camp in Novogorsk, and is now in Plymouth, Michigan, going through final preparations for the tournament, which begins on Friday.  Read on, as we take a look at the players selected, and speculate a bit about how head coach Alexei Chistyakov may deploy them when the time comes.

The 2017 Worlds will be the first as a head coach for the 48-year-old Chistyakov, who is also in charge of three-time Women’s Hockey League defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast (he replaced Mikhail Chekanov as national team coach at the start of this season).  Russia is coming off a bronze medal win at last year’s tournament, the third World Championship podium finish for the program.  Here then is the team that has been selected to defend that medal (in brackets are the player’s club team and number of senior World Championships, including Olympics):

Goalies:

  • Nadezhda Alexandrova (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 3)
  • Nadezhda Morozova (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, 1)
  • Mariya Sorokina (Dynamo St. Petersburg, 2)
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Nadezhda Morozova makes a save at last year’s Worlds.  (Image Source)

Some intrigue right away, as any of these three goalies could see significant time.  Sorokina was arguably the best goalie in the Women’s Hockey League this season, and should have the inside track.  But Morozova got the important games for Team Russia at last year’s worlds and excelled, particularly in the 1-0 Bronze Medal Game victory over Finland.  And Alexandrova, who replaces Anna Prugova from last year’s roster, is obviously well-known to coach Chistyakov from playing for him at Tornado.  The 31-year-old Alexandrova’s first major tournament was actually the 2006 Olympics; since then, she has played but twice at the senior World Championship level.  However, in her most appearance in 2013, she was spectacular, giving up only a single goal on 73 shots in over 200 minutes of action as Russia won bronze.

Defenders:

  • Mariya Batalova (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 0)
  • Anastasiya Chistyakova (Detroit Belle Tire, 0)
  • Liana Ganeyeva (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta, 0)
  • Angelina Goncharenko (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 5)
  • Yekaterina Lobova (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, 0)
  • Nina Pirogova (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 2)
  • Anna Shchukina (Agidel Ufa, 8)
  • Anna Shibanova (Agidel Ufa, 4)

Big changes on defence, as Russia takes four players — fully half the complement of blueliners — to their first ever senior World Championship, while Yekaterina Nikolayeva and long-serving veteran Alexandra Kapustina are the 2016 players who will be absent this time (Russia took only six defenders to the tournament last year).  Nikolayeva’s absence is a particular surprise, as she seemed to be establishing herself as a steady regular in the national team set-up (an unreported injury may be the problem here).

As for the newcomers, Batalova and Lobova are recent graduates of the Under-18 program who had good, “next step in the development,” sorts of seasons in the Women’s Hockey League in 2016-17.  Ganeyeva, who also has U18 experience, broke out in a major way as captain of Arktik-Universitet this season, scoring 5-14-19 and going +7 on a team that was out-scored by 41 goals over the season (she is not yet 20 years old, either).  Chistyakova (no relation to the head coach, as far as I know), is an interesting case.  After graduating from the U18s a couple of years ago, she played for Dynamo in 2015-16, then left the team last autumn to play at the Elite AAA level in the U.S.A.  Chistyakova has been partnered up at least some of the time with Ganeyeva at camp, which may suggest that their coach sees them as his “extra” pairing; Batalova and Lobova have had more experienced partners.

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Anna Shibanova. (Image Source)

The returning quartet of blueliners occupied four the top five spots in WHL points by defenders this season (the fifth was Kapustina).  Pirogova, who captained Russia to bronze at the U18 Worlds a couple of months ago, and Goncharenko are the top pair at Tornado, and unlike his predecessor, Chistyakov has seemed inclined to keep them together for this tournament, at least in training camp.  The Agidel Ufa pair of Shchukina and Shibanova have been paired with Lobova and Batalova respectively, at least some of the time.

Forwards:

  • Lyudmila Belyakova (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 4)
  • Yelena Dergachyova (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 4)
  • Yevgeniya Dyupina (Dynamo St. Petersburg, 2)
  • Iya Gavrilova (Calgary Inferno, 13)
  • Fanuza Kadirova (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta, 2)
  • Lidiya Malyavko (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, 0)
  • Elina Mitrofanova (Agidel Ufa, 1)
  • Anna Shokhina (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 1)
  • Alevtina Shtaryova (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 1)
  • Galina Skiba (Tornado Moscow Oblast, 10)
  • Yekaterina Smolentseva (Agidel Ufa, 14)
  • Olga Sosina (Agidel Ufa, 8)
  • Alexandra Vafina (University of Calgary, 9)

Russia took 14 forwards to British Columbia in 2016, and one fewer this time: Tatyana Burina, Yekaterina Smolina, Yelena Silina, and Valeriya Pavlova are the non-returning players at this position.  Biryusa Krasnoyarsk’s Pavlova, who sat out this season on maternity leave, is a particularly major loss, as she had been one of the Women’s Hockey League’s better scorers and drawn occasional first-line duty with the national team.

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Tornado’s Big 5 — Back row l. to r.: Shokhina, Dergachyova, Shtaryova.  Front row l. to r.: Goncharenko, Pirogova.  (Image Source)

So, three new names on the forward roster this time around, although two of them have World Championship experience from before 2016.  Malyavko, the forward group’s only World Championship rookie did an excellent job stepping in for Pavlova at Biryusa Krasnoyarsk; her tremendous breakout season we have talked about already here.  Yevgeniya Dyupina had a down year in 2015-16, but rebounded this time around to post a point per game in league play, and she returns for a third World Championship appearance.  And Shokhina, who was part of the 2014 Olympic team, has missed the last couple of World Championships through injury, but is healthy for this one — good news for Team Russia, as Shokhina led the Women’s Hockey League this season with a line of 39-42-81 in 36 games.

Shokhina’s return means that we may get to see, for the first time ever, Tornado’s “Big Five” as a unit at the World Championship.  Shokhina has been playing alongside her club linemates, Dergachyova and Shtaryova, in camp, with Pirogova and Goncharenko on defence behind them.  The fivesome scored 88 goals between them this season (in 36 games, a significant number of which Shtaryova missed through injury), so a chance to see them together on the World Championship stage is something to look forward to, should Chistyakov decide to keep things “as is.”

Beyond that, it is a bit difficult to predict the forward lines given that Gavrilova and Vafina, two very key players up front, did not attend camp but joined the team in Michigan (both play their club hockey in Canada), and that the also-very-important Belyakova missed a chunk of camp with a minor injury.  Gavrilova and Vafina are former team-mates with the University of Calgary, so may be used together in this tournament, and at a guess Belyakova would join them if that’s the case.  Chistyakov has also employed an “all-experienced” line of Smolentseva and the lethal Sosina, who frequently played together in Ufa this season, alongside Skiba during preparations for the Worlds.  Mitrofanova could step in there for Skiba, as she saw considerable time with both Smolentseva and Sosina at Agidel in 2016-17.  That would leave a fourth line of Dyupina, Malyavko, and Kadirova (it is worth noting that this combination has been seen at camp too), with either Mitrofanova or Skiba as the extra forward.  This is all, however, sheer speculation at this point!

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Alexandra Vafina. (Image Source)

We will get something of a clearer picture of what the head coach may be thinking when Russia takes on Switzerland in a pre-tournament exhibition game on Tuesday.  Russia’s Group A games begin on Friday, when they face Finland, followed by meetings with the U.S. on Saturday and Canada next Monday.  Group B this time around features Sweden, Czechia, Switzerland, and Germany.  Of course, the big story in the run-up to these Worlds has been the threatened boycott of the tournament by the American national team, whose players are fed up with years of inequitable treatment from USA Hockey.  At this moment, it appears that USA Hockey will vote on Monday on a tentative agreement that would head off the boycott; attempts by the national body to put together a replacement team have so far failed miserably.  A good timeline of the whole situation can be found here.

Later this week, after the game against Switzerland and the USA Hockey vote, we will have a full Russian women’s hockey update and take a final pre-tournament look at the 2017 Worlds (we will check in with the line combinations from that exhibition game, among other things).  Thank you for reading!

Olga Sosina’s shootout winner, the anthem, and post-game scenes from last year’s bronze medal win.

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Posted on March 27, 2017, in 2016-17, International Hockey, Women's Hockey. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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