Gold at the Euros!
As we mentioned last time, this past weekend saw the first-ever Under-16 Girls’ European Championship, with Budapest, Hungary, as the inaugural host city. Team Russia was in attendance, and… well, you can probably figure out from the picture above how it all went. Read on, then, for a recap of Russia’s gold-medal campaign at the new tournament!
Russia began the group stage of the tournament facing hosts Hungary on Thursday, and forward Mariya Pushkar, who plays on the national-champion Under-18 team at SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, will go down in the history books with the first goal for the Russian Under-16 Girls’ National Team; she opened the scoring halfway through the first period of the opener. Three more Russian goals followed before the middle frame was halfway done, and although Hungary did get on the board early in the third period, two more tallies from coach Yevgeny Bobariko’s side made for a comfortable 6-1 victory. Anastasiya Yakubiva and Polina Luchnikova led the way for Team Russia with a goal and two assists each, while Anna Alpatova made 14 saves in net.
Game 2, against Austria, featured the Russian girls once again finding the net with regularity, particularly during a seven-goal outburst in the second period. Seven different Russian players would record tallies in the game, which finished 10-0 in their favour; Yakubiva, Kristi Shashkina, and Varvara Boriskova scored a pair apiece. Goalie Karina Zolotaryova was called upon only nine times in the game, while Russia fired on net 48 times.
Those results meant that Saturday’s Game 3 was for a spot in the gold medal game, and the opposition would be Germany, who also entered the day with a record of 2-0. A cagey first period saw the shots even at 12 apiece, but the Russians found their skating legs in the second, out-shooting Germany 15-4. Even so, it was not until the final minute of the middle frame that they was able to solve Tatjana Pfeiffer in the German goal; Sofya Sychyova finally put Russia ahead 1-0 after 40 minutes. In the third, Russia’s dominance of the play continued (16-7 would be the shots on goal), and further tallies from Luchnikova, Yelizaveta Shkalyova, and Kristi Shashkina made the final 4-0. Alpatova made 23 saves for the shutout, and Team Russia finished the group stage at a perfect 3-0.
Sunday’s gold medal game therefore featured Russia against a Czech team that had finished 3-0 in Group B without allowing a single goal against. The Russian team piled on the pressure in the first period, outshooting the Czechs 11-6, and finally got a puck past standout Czech goalie Eva Štumbaurová 19 minutes in as Shkalyova made the score 1-0. A furious push-back ensued in the second period, as the shot-counter swung around to favour the Czechs by 8-3. But Vita Ponyatovskaya scored Russia’s second early on to make it 2-0. Team Czechia did get on the board thereafter; Barbora Machalová reduced her team’s deficit to 2-1 heading into the final 20 minutes. The Czechs kept coming in the third period, too, firing 13 shots on goal while allowing only seven, but Alpatova was again in fine form, and the game came to an end without further scoring. 2-1 the final, and a gold medal for Team Russia.
Czechia won the silver medal, while the bronze went to Finland after a 3-0 victory against Germany in the third-place game. In the fifth-place matchup, Switzerland defeated Hungary 2-1, while Austria downed Slovakia by the same score to secure seventh place in the final standings.
As far as individual performances on the Russian team are concerned, Shkalyova led the team in points by scoring one goal and one assist in each game, for a final line of 4 gp, 4-4-8 (second place in the team points race was held by several players with five). Shkalyova, who plays her club hockey for one of the boys’ teams at HK Dmitrov, also led the team in goals, just ahead of a handful of players with three. Russia got fine goaltending from Alpatova (61 saves on 63 shots over three games) and Zolotaryova (perfect on nine shots against in the game versus Austria). Obviously, with Team Russia having won the gold medal off a 4-0 record and a goal differential of 22-2, I could mention any number of other strong showings, and coach Bobariko will have some interesting new names to think about for future editions of the Under-18 Russian women’s team, which he also coaches. Team captain Yelena Provorova, who plays defence for SKIF Nizhny Novgorod in the Women’s Hockey League and for Bobariko’s U18 national side, summed up the tournament thus:
“To win the European Cup for the first time in its history is a great honour. A completely new team was assembled, obviously, [so] there were difficulties, but we coped with them, and this is the main thing.”
This was, as mentioned, the inaugural U16 Girls’ European Championship, and it seems to have gone very well. Much credit and gratitude are due to the Magyar Jégkorong Szövetség (the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation), not just for organizing and hosting the event, but for the excellent coverage of it at the organization’s website as well. Here’s hoping we will see this tournament back again next year, and that it will take up a regular place on the hockey calendar!