Women’s Hockey Update: June 12th, 2017
After a fairly quiet stretch going back to mid-May, it is time for another women’s hockey update! The 2017-18 women’s hockey picture in Russia is becoming clearer, largely as a result of some meetings involving Women’s Hockey League and Russian Hockey Federation executives. Read on, then, for news of a league format change, some notes on the upcoming international season, and other such matters.
Before we get to the 2017-18 business, however, a last note from 2016-17. I mentioned it already in this piece here, but May 25th saw the first-ever Women’s Hockey League participation in the KHL’s Awards Night. Tornado Moscow Oblast forward Anna Shokhina won the Best Player prize for the league, with her line-mate Yelena Dergachyova and Dynamo St. Petersburg goalie Mariya Sorokina being the other two players on the short list. Congratulations to all three players!
Representatives of the Women’s Hockey League teams met last week in Moscow to begin preparations for the upcoming season, and among the items on the agenda was an interesting change in format. Last year, the teams played 36 games each, facing each opponent three times at home and three times on the road, with the title awarded to the squad with the most points at the end. In 2017-18 teams will play each other four times apiece (twice at home, twice away), reducing the season to 24 games. However, there will also be, for the first time, a playoff at the end: the top four regular-season sides will advance to the post-season, where best-of-three semifinals will be followed by a best-of-five final.
The reduction in number of regular-season games is unfortunate, but understandable enough given not only the addition of the playoffs but also the fact that 2018 is an Olympic year (the KHL will be taking a full month off for the Pyeongchang Games, and the Women’s Hockey League will surely do likewise). And the newly-minted post-season play is a truly exciting development, one that players and league officials have been hinting they would like to see for some time. Said Biryusa Krasnoyarsk GM Sergei Rabtsun (see link above):
“The playoffs are fundamentally different from the games in regular season. This is another level of hockey, another level of desire and opportunity, when the fourth-place team can beat the first and become the winner.”
One further note from the Moscow meeting: it was noted on social media, with some concern, by fans of Artik-Universitet Ukhta that the team had not been represented at the get-together. As it turns out, there is no need to worry: the club’s representative explained that it was merely a matter of a delayed flight from Ukhta, and that he held post-meeting discussions with league officials once he had arrived in Moscow.
The schedule for the 2017-18 Women’s Hockey League campaign will not be out until August, but we are getting some idea of what teams will be up to during their pre-season preparations. It appears that SKIF Nizhny Novgorod will be first out of the blocks for 2017-18, as their players will gather in Montenegro for an off-ice training camp beginning this coming Saturday. On-ice activities for most teams will begin in early July. Later, as the regular season approaches, Dynamo St. Petersburg and Agidel Ufa will take part in the 2017 Czech Women’s Cup tournament, in Czechia of course; that competition will run from August 23rd to 28th. SKIF, meanwhile, will play August exhibition games against Finnish opposition. It does not appear that the Agidel Cup pre-season tournament will be held this season — I have seen no announcement of it, at any rate.
International hockey, of course, will be the focus of more attention than usual in 2017-18, with the afore-mentioned Olympics on the calendar. But the Winter Games (due to which there will be no “regular” top division Women’s World Championship in 2018) are not the only point of interest. As I mentioned last time, Russia will be hosting the Women’s Under-18 Worlds (top division) next January, in Nizhny Novgorod. And a recent meeting between representatives of the Women’s Hockey League and the Russian Hockey Federation revealed some other tidbits about what the national teams will be getting up to between now and next spring:
- It appears that the women’s senior national team will once again be playing some games against squads from the U.S.-based NWHL this coming October. (exact schedule yet unknown). Team Russia met the NWHL sides for the first time last autumn, going 2-3 on their tour. Pretty much everyone seemed to agree that valuable experience was gained, so it is good to see that these matches will occur again.
- The Under-16 Girls’ European Championship will take be held for the second time, next April in Finland. Russia are defending champions from the inaugural edition of the tournament a couple of months ago in Hungary.
- There will also be the usual assortment of four-nations exhibition tournaments and the like, of which we await more details.
To whet everybody’s appetite, the Russian Ministry of Sport has now released the list of coaches, staff, and players who will be candidates for the various national teams in the coming season. You can see the list here; the link is PDF in Russian, with the women’s lists beginning on page 12 and running to page 25. We will have much more about those names later on here at the blog!
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the big women’s hockey news of the past couple of weeks — and it does have something of a Russian connection, as it involves a KHL club. It was already a rumour the last time we had a women’s hockey update, but is now confirmed, that the team will play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. It will still be based in China, in Shenzhen (very close to Hong Kong), and will bear the Kunlun Red Star name. The new squad has already picked up a couple of big signings, in American forward Kelli Stack and — one of the most famous names in women’s hockey — legendary Finnish netminder Noora Räty. There will also be a Chinese Under-18 women’s team, based at Providence College in the United States.
By my count, the new team will make Kunlun Red Star the third club with squads in both the KHL and a professional women’s league. Readers of this blog will already be familiar with the (Russian) Women’s Hockey League’s Agidel Ufa, part of the Salavat Yulaev club, while Barys Astana’s women’s team, Tomiris Astana, play in the Kazakh league. In addition, Dynamo St. Petersburg runs eponymous teams in both the Women’s Hockey League and the second-tier men’s professional VHL (and in the junior men’s MHL), and another VHL club, Sokol Krasnoyarsk, have Biryusa Krasnoyarsk as their women’s team.
For a great deal of excellent coverage of developments with the new Kunlun Red Star women’s team, I strongly encourage you to visit The Ice Garden.
That’s it for this time around! Next up at the blog will the third in our series looking at 2017-18 KHL coaches. In the meantime, thank you for reading!