Women’s Hockey Update: October 30th, 2017
Well, this was a fairly busy week in Russian women’s hockey! With the the national team returned from its tour of the NWHL, there were once again games in the Women’s Hockey League, while just east of the Urals the amateur league’s Under-18 division held its inaugural matches as well. Read on…
The Women’s Hockey League swung back into action last week on Thursday when Agidel Ufa, and newly-signed forward Alexandra Vafina, traveled up to St. Petersburg for a highly-anticipated pair of games against Dynamo.
The first of those games turned into a goalie duel, as the home side’s Valeriya Merkusheva and Agidel’s Anna Prugova matched each other nearly save-for-save. It took 41 minutes for a goal to arrive; when it did, it came from the Ufa side’s Slovakian forward Nicol Čupková, and it would be the game’s only scoring moment. Prugova stopped 20 shots for the shutout, while Merkusheva made 26 saves on 27 shots. 1-0 the final in Agidel’s favour.
The same two goalies met again on Friday, and — no surprise — it was once again a close game. This time, however, the scoring started early as Čupková found the net just a minute in before Mariya Pechnikova extended Agidel’s lead late in the first period. The score remained 2-0 until the closing stages; Prugova appeared headed for a second straight shutout, but with just two minutes left Alena Polenska scored for Dynamo to set up a tense finale. The equalizer, however, could not be found. Olga Sosina, one of the heroines of Team Russia’s recent trip to the U.S., scored into the empty net to secure a 3-1 Agidel victory, and a very important six points from their trip. Vafina, incidentally, picked up her first point in Agidel colours by assisting on Sosina’s empty-netter.
The impressive performances, and the resulting two-game sweep, propelled Agidel to the top of the standings outright, with 15 points from six games, while Dynamo stayed on eight points from six matches and fell to fifth in the table.
Last week’s other series in the league took place out in Siberia, as Biryusa Krasnoyarsk hosted lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, and Game 1 of the two-game set saw the hosts in a merciless sort of mood. Four Biryusa goals found the back of the SKSO net in first period, followed by another four in the opening 14 minutes of the second. SKSO goalie Yuliya Leskina can hardly be blamed (she would face 65 shots on the night), and she held the fort well down the stretch, allowing just one further goal despite 20 Biryusa shots in the third period.
The 9-0 final score duly led to some interesting individual stats; three Biryusa players (Alexandra Budanova, Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva, and Valeriya Pavlova) came away with four points, with Budanova and Dobrodeyeva scoring two goals each. Irina Afanasyeva and Nadezhda Morozova combined for the 19-save shutout.
After her solid Game 1 third period for SKSO, Leskina picked up where she left off in Game 2 on Saturday. Biryusa fired 22 shots her way in the first period, but came out of it with just a 1-0 lead thanks to Yelena Mezentseva’s goal. And the second period began with a shock: the visitors tied it up with a goal from Regina Yumaguzhina, having a fine seasons despite her team’s struggles (6 gp, 4-0-4). Biryusa forged ahead again, however, as Budanova and Pavlova registered goals for a 3-1 second-intermission lead.
But credit SKSO with some resilience at the very least. Early in the third they made it 3-2, Alexandra Neryueva finding the net and getting Sofiya Senchukova her second assist of the night. That, however, was as close as they would get. Biryusa goals from Anastasiya Letovaltseva and finally from Dobrodeyeva closed out the scoring in a 5-2 win. The big offensive star of the game was actually Biryusa defender Yekaterina Lobova, who assisted on four her team’s five goals, while Pavlova also contributed three points.
It must be said that the game was not as close as the final score indicated, and we should once again tip our hats to Leskina; the former Russian national-teamer made an incredible 65 saves for SKSO on 70 shots. It did not help that SKSO had made the trip with just nine forwards, however, so fatigue may well have been something of a factor. In any case, SKSO remain seventh and last in the standings, while Biryusa climb to second with 12 points from six games.
The final series of this little stretch of Women’s Hockey League action began today, with Dynamo St. Petersburg, badly in need of a win after that sweep by Agidel, hosting SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. And they would indeed get that victory, albeit by the slightest of margins, as Svetlana Kolmykova’s third-period goal was the only tally in a 1-0 final score. Merkusheva stopped 12 shots for the shutout, running her sv% to a league-leading .952 in the process, while Valeriya Tarakanova stopped 21 of 22 shots in the SKIF goal. The victory pushed Dynamo back up to third in the standings with 11 points, while SKIF remain fourth ahead of the idle Tornado Moscow Oblast. Dynamo and SKIF will meet again on Tuesday, and we will have full recap of that game next week.
And so the standings at the moment look like this:
While we might be stunned momentarily to see the defending champions in fifth place, we should note that after tomorrow’s match between Dynamo and SKIF, Tornado will have at least two games in hand on every team ahead of them.
The top three spots in the scoring race, meanwhile, belong to a trio of Agidel players: Olga Sosina (6gp, 4-9-13), Yekaterina Lebedeva (6gp, 6-6-12 and the league leader in goals), and Nicol Čupková (6gp, 5-7-12). Biryusa’s Valeriya Pavlova is in fourth place at 4-6-10 in six games. Her Biryusa team-mate Yekaterina Lobova is the top-scoring defender with six points, all assists, in six matches. I have already mentioned Valeriya Merkusheva’s league-leading .952 sv% at Dynamo; that puts her just ahead of Agidel’s Anna Prugova at .951. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Merkusheva, who only just turned 18 in September, has been keeping Russian national team goalie Mariya Sorokina out of the Dynamo net; that is definitely a story to watch as the season rolls along!
We turn now from the professional to the amateur women’s game in Russia! The inaugural tournament of the Under-18 division (the “Olimpiiskie Nadezhdy” or “Olympic Hopes” division) in the League of Women’s Hockey took place this past weekend in Kurganovo, near Yekaterinburg, featuring eight teams divided into two groups of four (each team played each other team in its group once
When the weekend was over, top spot in Group A and a perfect 3-0 record belonged to Severyanka Cherepovets and their star goalie Arina Konina (you may recall that Konina got a look-see from the Russian U18 national team earlier this season). Severyanka outscored their opponents 16-3 over the three games. Second place went to Forvard Kazan at 2-1, while Orsa Yaroslavl were third with a 1-2 record. Orsa could lay claim to having given Severyanka their toughest test of the weekend, going down to an entirely respectable defeat by only 3-2. In last place in the group, at 0-3 and outscored 27-2, was Grizli Novosibirsk.
Group B, meanwhile was utterly dominated by Pantery St. Petersburg, who rolled to a 3-0 record and a GF-GA of 39-3. And small wonder: Pantery are essentially the youth team for Arktik-Universitet Ukhta of the Women’s Hockey League (six players on the Pantery roster have seen time recently with the Ukhta team). In second place were the Pervomaiskie Lvitsy (“May 1st Lionesses”) from Korkino, near Chelyabinsk, with a 2-1 record. Third went to Rubin Tyumen at 1-2, while 0-3 Pantary Tatarsk rounded out the group.
This was the first of three such tournaments for the Under-18 division this year; I do not yet have schedules for the next two. However, the inaugural weekend seems to have gone very well indeed, and there are already some interesting battles shaping up. Next weekend will see the opening of the League of Women’s Hockey’s senior division (the “Amazonki” division) 2017-18 season, as Group A, which includes the Moscow teams plus Tigritsy Amura Khabarovsk, plays its opening tournament.
And a final note: Russian national team forward Iya Gavrilova continued her good start to the 2017-18 CWHL season with the Calgary Inferno this weekend. Though the Inferno were beaten on Saturday, 4-3 in overtime by Kunlun Red Star Shenzhen, the Calgarians did fight their way back from a 3-0 deficit to force the extra time, and Gavrilova contributed a goal and an assist to that effort. She found the net again on Sunday, as the Inferno recorded a 4-1 victory over Kunlun Red Star. The weekend’s work gives Gavrilova a season line of 4 gp, 3-2-5, and a share of third spot in the CWHL scoring race.
And we will have a full recap of the amateur tournament next Monday, along with a look at tomorrow’s Dynamo-SKIF game in the Women’s Hockey League. After that, the focus shifts back to the national teams, plus whatever other news crops up! Thank you for reading!