Women’s Hockey Update: July 6th, 2017
Dynamo St. Petersburg players impart some wisdom at a children’s hockey master-class in April of this year.
They’re back! Women’s Hockey League teams are heading back to training camps this week (most of them, anyway — SKIF Nizhny Novgorod got their 2017-18 preparations underway with a dry-land camp back in mid-June). Read on, therefore, as we get caught up on the league’s news of the last couple of weeks, including among other items a most promising young goalie on the move, and the potential return to action of a league star!
It was not just the Women’s Hockey League teams getting back into the swing of things this week; the Russian national team is also running an early-summer camp for 28 players in Novogorsk, near Moscow, until July 12th. You can see the entire roster here, and it includes most (though not all) of the players we might consider the “big guns.” I’ll leave it at that; even with this being an Olympic season, early July is probably too soon to read much into those 28 names, and more clarity will surely arrive as we go along.
Women’s Hockey League side Dynamo St. Petersburg had a very busy month of June, transfer-wise, and it began with something of a bang. The defending bronze-medalists announced a couple of weeks ago that they have signed young goalie Valeriya Merkusheva from SK Sverdlovsk Oblast. Merkusheva, who will not turn 18 until September, was named best goalie of this year’s Under-18 Women’s Worlds after posting shutouts in both the quarterfinal and the bronze medal game. In league play, she got a baptism of fire playing 31 games for lowly SKSO; we may safely discount Merkusheva’s 6.24 GAA, as she faced half again as many shots as any other goalie in the league (1445, total). Her save percentage for SKSO, .879, was average-ish for the Women’s Hockey League, but again we must take into account the team for which she played; many of the opposing chances she faced were of the five-bell variety.
Merkusheva’s arrival on the banks of the Neva give Dynamo a tremendous one-two combination in goal. The team already boasts the netminding talents of the Mariya Sorokina, arguably the best goalie in the Women’s Hockey League (she was one of the three finalists for the overall Best Player award this past May, although Tornado Moscow Oblast forward Anna Shokhina won it in the end). The Russian Hockey Federation will be pleased, too, as Merkusheva arrives at a club where her development can be managed in a more sedate way, and she will not face the every-game shellacking that she did with SKSO.
Dynamo were not finished with the transfer market, either; in June they also welcomed back defender Anastasiya Chistyakova. After making her Women’s Hockey League debut with Dynamo in 2015-16, the now-20-year-old spent last season in the United States, playing for the Detroit Belle Tire Under-19 program. She was also named to the Russian national team for the 2017 Women’s Worlds, although did not end up playing any games at the tournament.
Finally, Dynamo closed out last month by signing forward Anna Fagina from league rivals Agidel Ufa. The 26-year-old scored 7-9-16 in 35 games for Agidel last season, and won a second straight Women’s Hockey League silver medal.
It was not, however, all good news for the St. Petersburg team, as they will be without the services of forward Diana Bulatova this coming season. Bulatova, who was sixth in scoring for Dynamo last season with a line of 36gp, 6-14-20, is leaving for reasons of higher education, although her comments (see link above) suggest that she does intend to play again at some point.
Moving away from St. Petersburg: it has been reported, by the player’s father in fact, that Tornado Moscow Oblast forward Lyudmila Belyakova has received a contract offer from Kunlun Red Star Shenzhen. That squad, you may remember, is the newly-created women’s team of the KHL’s Kunlun Red Star Beijing, and will play its inaugural season in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Belyakova has previous experience in North America, having suited up in 2015-16 for the New York Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League. The 22-year-old had a tremendous season for champions Tornado in 2016-17; she scored 34 goals in 35 games, putting her second in the league behind only her team-mate Anna Shokhina, and chipped in 19 assists as well. And despite her young age she already has five senior World Championship tournaments on her CV, including the most recent one, at which she scored one goal.
Belyakova has not yet made her decision on whether to accept the Kunlun Red Star offer.
One more thing to look forward to in the coming season: the possible return to action of one of the Women’s Hockey League’s best players. Biryusa Krasnoyarsk forward Valeriya Pavlova was third in the league in goals in 2015-16, and fifth in points (24 gp, 26-17-43), before missing all of last season on maternity leave. However, it sounds like she will be back for 2017-18: “[Pavlova] is ready to return to the ice and play for Krasnoyarsk” were the words of Biryusa head coach Alexander Vedernikov this past week. Should she get back up to game speed fairly quickly, her return will not only benefit her club, but also give the national team’s selectors an extra option as they consider the upcoming Olympics (Pavlova captained her country at three U18 Worlds tournaments, and has also played at four senior World Championships ).
That’s it for this time! In next week’s women’s hockey update, we will — among other things — run the rule over the coaches of the seven Women’s Hockey League teams. In the meantime, thank you for reading!