Women’s Hockey Update: May 19th, 2017
Much news this week in Russian women’s hockey, starting with some very exciting tidings on the international hockey scene! Read on, however, as we also have the conclusion to the amateur women’s hockey season in Russia, transfers news, and other such items (including an update on a kitten…).
The big women’s hockey news of the week came out of the IIHF, which today finalized the site assignments for next year’s World Championships. And, for the first time ever, the 2018 Under-18 Women’s World Championship will be held in Russia, in Nizhny Novgorod next January to be precise. In fact, this will be Russia’s first hosting of the Women’s Worlds at any age level, and may plausibly lead, if all goes well, to a future hosting of senior version of the tournament (Ufa has been rumoured as a possible host city for that event at some point). Nizhny Novgorod is an appropriate enough choice to host the U18 Women’s Worlds, as this past season saw local club SKIF yet again crowned women’s champions of Russia in that age category. And today’s news means that both of next season’s Under-18 World Championships, women’s and men’s, will be played in Russia; as was already known, the men’s U18s will play in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk.
This is genuinely exciting news for Russian women’s hockey, and the home team will be looking to build upon 2017’s bronze medal win in Czechia (and a hat-tip to Denis Osipchuk for this bit story)
The host city assignments were not the only women’s hockey tidings out of the IIHF today. On the IIHF Congress’s agenda this year was a proposal to increase the senior Women’s Worlds field, in the top division, to ten teams from its current eight (all other divisions will remain at six teams). That proposal has now been approved, and will come into effect at the 2019 tournament in Finland. The 2018 top division Women’s Worlds will not be held due to the Olympics, and the ten team target will be reached by not relegating anybody from this year’s event (Czechia had been slated for the drop, but will now survive), and by promoting one team next year from Division IA, as normal (Japan were promoted this year, and will be in the top flight for 2019). On other details of the new format, we await further tidings, and may not get final world until next May.
As we noted here earlier this spring, newly-minted KHL club Kunlun Red Star Beijing was planning to add a women’s squad for the coming season, with Digit Murphy as coach, and that story got some added details this week. It now appears that the new team will actually play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League; further information, such as where exactly the team will be based, is still awaited. According to the same article, an Under-18 Women’s team is also planned, based out of out Providence College in the United States. The idea of putting the women’s teams up against North American competition is an intriguing one; a certain rapidity of development is likely the goal, as the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing get closer and closer. The Chinese women’s national team fell two spots in the world rankings this year, to 18th, and played in the third-tier Division IB World Championship (China finished fourth, and will remain in that division for at least another year).
Kunlun Red Star will become, I believe, the third KHL team to include a professional women’s squad, the other two being Salavat Yulaev Ufa (Agidel Ufa, in the Women’s Hockey League) and Barys Astana (Tomiris Astana, in the Kazakh Women’s League) — that’s to the best of my knowledge, and I am certainly willing to be corrected on it if I’m wrong. The afore-mentioned SKIF have a working relationship with the KHL’s Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, but I believe it falls short of formal affiliation. Two VHL clubs also ice teams in the Russian Women’s Hockey League: Dynamo St. Petersburg (eponymous) and Sokol Krasnoyarsk (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk)
As mentioned last time, this past weekend, in Sochi, was held the final tournament of the League of Women’s Hockey, to determine Russia’s national amateur women’s hockey champion. For the second straight year, the title was won by Grad-1 Moscow, who went 5-0 in the championship round and outscored their opponents by 40-2 overall. Grad-1’s toughest test came against eventual silver medalists Groza-1 St. Petersburg, whom the Moscow side defeated 4-2 on the final day to clinch the gold medal. Grizli-1 Novosibirsk, last year’s runners-up, took home bronze this time. Full standings and results for the tournament can be seen here.
The top point-scorer at the final tournament was Grad-1 defender Olga Permyakova (5 gp, 6-8-14) — no particular surprise from the three-time Olympian and former captain of the Russian national team! She tied team-mate Vika Samarina for the tournament lead in goals, as well. Viktoriya Senotrusova of Groza-1 took home the tournament’s best forward award, while it was Grizli-1’s Diana Loginskaya who was named best goalie.
In a post-tournament interview, league general manager Zhanna Shchelchkova, herself a former hockey Olympian, noted that the amateur circuit continues with plans to add an Under-18 competition next season (this season’s teams were limited to the over-18 set). She also hinted at a possible expansion of the final tournament for the senior squads next year.
At the professional level in Russia, meanwhile, the off-season transfer season is underway, and there have been a couple of significant moves so far. Agidel Ufa, coming off a second consecutive silver-medal finish in the Women’s Hockey League, added two very interesting players from SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. Seventeen-year-old forward forward Yelizaveta Rodnova had an excellent 2016-17 campaign, scoring eight goals and adding three assists in 29 WHL games while also seeing some action with the SKIF’s national-champion U18 side. Those feats earned her a first-ever call-up to the Russian Under-18 team for the World Championship in January; although held without a point in six games there, she did win a bronze medal. Defender Mariya Pechnikova, meanwhile, brings a wealth of experience to Ufa. Still only 24, she has two World Championship tournaments on her resume (2012 and 2015) to go along with a gold medal at the 2015 Winter Universiade, and had been a staple of the SKIF defence for the past eight seasons. Both Rodnova and Pechnikova should be able to contribute amply to an Agidel team that will be looking to finally unseat Tornado Moscow Oblast from their spot atop the Women’s Hockey League standings.
Another interesting move comes from Dynamo St. Petersburg, who finished third in the league in 2016-17 for their first-ever podium appearance. Dynamo have re-signed veteran forward Yekaterina Smolina from Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish women’s league. The 28-year-old native of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, has appeared in seven World Championships for Russia, as well as at the 2006 and 2014 Olympics. Smolina began the 2016-17 season at Dynamo, but moved to Djurgårdens in November; in doing so, she became the first Russian player ever in the Swedish women’s league. She scored 2-7-9 in 14 games for Dynamo, and posted a line of 19 gp, 1-2-3 in Sweden as Djurgårdens won the national championship.
And we will finish off in a light-hearted vein! Last October, we reported here on the saga of Dynamo St. Petersburg and Zyba, the kitten the players adopted after finding her on a chilly in the parking lot in Ufa. When last seen, Zyba was in the care of Dynamo goalie Mariya Sorokina, but is now on the move again: the kitten is to be taken home this off-season by Czech forward Aneta Tejralová. “Now she will live with my parents,” said Tejralová in an interview this week, “and in the off-season I will look after her myself.”
On that pleasant feline note, thank you for reading!