Women’s Hockey Update: May 10th, 2017
There remains one piece of on-ice business to be settled before the 2016-17 Russian women’s hockey season can be declared fully finished. That is the national championship of the League of Women’s Hockey, the country’s amateur women’s league. That tournament, the second in the competition’s history, begins tomorrow in Sochi on the Black Sea Coast, as part of the overall Russian amateur hockey national festivities. Read on, for a quick look at that tournament, including some familiar names from the past…
The national women’s amateur championship expanded to six teams from four this season, with the particpants determined in a series of qualifying tournaments involving four regional groups over the last several months (the four group winners, and two best second-place teams, earned tickets to Sochi). The field for the 2017 tournament is thus as follows:
- Grad-1 Moscow (Group A 1st place, and defending national champions)
- Groza-1 St. Petersburg (Group Б 1st place)
- ZHK Nikolai Liu Ukhta (Group Б 2nd place)
- Grizli-1 Novosibirsk (Group B 1st place, and defending national silver medalists)
- Sobol Irkutsk (Group B 2nd place)
- Malakhit Yekaterinburg (Group Г 1st place)
Sobol and Malakhit are the two real surprise teams here; the former nipped into second place, and a qualifying spot, ahead of Kuznechanka Novokuznetsk, who were hosting the second and final Group B qualifying tournament. Malakhit, meanwhile, were just founded this past summer, but topped Group Г despite the presence of Forvard Kazan, who qualified for the national tournament last season and finished fourth.
Grad-1 took last season’s inaugural championship, via a 4-1 victory over Grizli-1 in the Final, and to be honest it will be very difficult to unseat them this time around. The Moscow side boasts a number of former professional players with World Championship and/or Olympic experience; their top goalie this season was Vancouver 2010 alumna Mariya Onolbayeva. The team’s leading scorer in qualifying was Tatyana Sotnikova (6 gp, 9-9-18), while Olga Permyakova was Grad-1’s best defender (6 gp, 8-9-17). Both Sotnikova and Permyakova were members of the Russian team at the 2002, 2006, and 2010 Olympics, and there are several other such veterans on the roster as well. As for leading goal-scorer Vika Samarina (7 gp, 12 goals), she has professional experience in the past with SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. So this is a very strong team, in other words.
It’s good to see the little northern city of Ukhta (pop. c. 100,000) represented; Ukhta is something of a women’s hockey hot-bed, and I wrote a little bit about this history back in October. The Nikolai Liu club will be led by forward Olga Semenets, another familiar name for women’s hockey fans. Semenets, now 29, has three World Championship tournaments on her resume, and played professionally for SKIF up until 2015. She scored 20-20-40 in qualifying this season… in only eight games. The Ukhta team waged an epic qualifying battle with Groza-1 for top spot in their group; the two teams met twice, tied both games, and finished level on points. The St. Petersburg team got the nod thanks to goal difference, but it is only right that both clubs managed to qualify for the Finals.
I could go on at length about players of interest in this tournament, but to keep this post short I will mention just one other. The Grizli-1 team, from Novosibirsk, had as its leading scorer this season Natalya Trunova (9 gp, 18-18-36), and she is another one with considerable international experience. Trunova’s hockey road, however, has been an unusual one: she was for many years the goalie for the Kazakh national team, including at the country’s only Olympic appearance in women’s hockey, Salt Lake City in 2002. Trunova is now enjoying a second hockey life as a forward in Novosibirsk (she scored Grizli-1’s only goal against Grad-1 in last year’s national Final), although she did step back between the pipes on one occasion during qualifying for this year’s nationals.
The 2017 Russian women’s amateur national championship will be in a straight round-robin format, with each team playing each other team once. As mentioned, it starts tomorrow, and will wrap up next Monday. You can follow all the action at the League of Women’s Hockey website here (in Russian). As a final note on this tournament, there are reports that the League of Women’s Hockey, which this season allowed only players over the age of 18, will introduce an Under-18 competition next season!
Next week, when the amateur finals are over, we will have a women’s hockey 2016-17 wrap-up post here. In the meantime, thank you for reading!