Women’s Hockey Update: December 4th, 2017
On and off the ice, there have been noteworthy developments in Russian women’s hockey over the past seven days, and more than a few! Read on, therefore, for expansion talk, the Oswald Commission and the national team, and whole lot of hockey games in various competitions…
We’ve mentioned it here over the last month or so, but today was the day on which seven members of Russia’s 2014 Olympic women’s hockey team were to appear before the Oswald Commission in Switzerland, which is investigating allegations of widespread doping among Russian athletes at those games. That hearing, which was re-scheduled from mid-November, did indeed take place… but there is nothing whatsoever to report on it just yet, as the Commission has not yet released its final decision.
I’ve made it a bit of a policy here not to reveal the names of the players involved until they are made official (there are some unofficial rumours out there that are probably correct, but I wish to be sure on this one). However, one of the players involved has gone public herself: Agidel Ufa captain Anna Shibanova. Shibanova spoke to the press today about the hearing (all seven players took part personally, although some were present only through teleconferencing):
And of course, Tuesday is the day on which the IOC expected to announce its own decision regarding Russia’s participation in the 2018 Games in South Korea. You may expect a post here tomorrow once the decision is known.
The hearing was not the only bit of interesting off-ice news this past week in Russian women’s hockey. As mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, part of the Women’s Hockey League’s strategic plan moving forward is expansion to ten teams by 2023. Well, that expansion may come much sooner than that. Kazakh team Tomiris Astana is already in the mix for next season by all reports, and today FHR President Vladislav Tretyak announced that squads from Moscow and Kazan may join them for 2018-19, which would indeed bring the roster of clubs to ten.
Both cities would be excellent additions to the league; while Tornado Moscow Oblast already represent the Russian capital’s hinterlands, the city of Moscow itself lacks a team. Kazan, meanwhile, is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, which has produced any number of Russian national team regulars, including the redoubtable Olga Sosina (more on her anon). And if any of the three proposed teams were to drop out, I would suggest Chelyabinsk as another good option, with its strong girls’ program at the Sergei Makarov Hockey School.
(h/t to Tomáš Vorčák)
To on-ice action, and this past week featured Women’s Hockey League leaders Agidel Ufa at home for a pair of games against second-place SKIF Nizhny Novgorod: a difficult and intriguing test for both teams! Agidel’s Olga Sosina was coming off a hat-trick in her previous match, and in Game 1 versus SKIF she found the net late in the first period and early in the third to give Agidel a 2-0 lead. That would be all that was necessary, too, although Anna Shibanova scored an insurance marker late on to complete the 3-0 final score. Anna Prugova earned the clean sheet for Agidel in net, stopping all 20 shots that came her way. One happy note for the losing side was the return to action of Oxana Bratishcheva, good news not just for SKIF but for the Russian national U18 team as well. Bratishcheva suffered a nasty head injury in recent Women’s Hockey League action, so it was nice to see her back on her skates.
In Game 2, Agidel’s scorers went off in a big way. Sosina got things started with a goal just 16 seconds in, before a pair by team captain Yekaterina Lebedeva made the score 3-1 (Viktoriya Kulishova had the SKIF goal) halfway through the first period. Agidel kept coming in the second; Yekaterina Ananina, Alexandra Vafina, and Inna Dyubanok scored for a 6-1 lead, and it was 7-1 when Lebedeva completed her hat-trick midway through the middle frame. Agidel took their foot of the gas at that point, and the only goal thereafter came from SKIF’s Polina Luchnikova very late in the the third period. 7-2 the final, and if there were any doubt that Agidel deserved their table-topping position, those two wins surely dispelled it. Sosina built upon her league scoring lead in Game 2, notching three points, a total matched by Lebedeva with her hat-trick.
The other mid-week series saw last season’s champions Tornado Moscow Oblast hosting Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and in bad need of some points after a stuttering start to the current campaign. Game 1 went scoreless into the back half of the second period, before goals by Alevtina Shtaryova and Nina Pirogova put Tornado in front 2-0 (Yelena Dergachyova picked up assists on both). But Biryusa are a handful, and Lidiya Malyavko’s goal got them within one with ten minutes to play. On this night, the big star would be Tornado netminder Nadezhda Alexandrova; she shut the door down stretch, stopping 24 of 25 shots for the game, and it ended 2-1 in Tornado’s favour. Her colleague in the Biryusa net, Nadezhda Morozova, had a fine game as well with 34 saves on 36 shots against.
The second game would be slightly less hairy for the Tornado netminder. Once again, Tornado got out to a 2-0 lead (Lyudmila Belyakova and Shtaryova the scorers), before Valeriya Pavlova reduced the arrears for Biryusa. This time, however, there would be no late-game wracking of nerves. Shtaryova and Belyakova tallied to make the score 4-1 for Tornado, and Alyona Starovoitova’s late-game goal put the capper on a 5-1 victory for the home team. Dergachyova, Pirogova, and Angelina Goncharenko each added two assists for Tornado, and those six points of a possible six were enough to move Tornado back into the playoff spots.
Following their sweep by Tornado, Biryusa had an opportunity for instant redemption, as they travelled up to Ukhta to take on Arktik-Universitet twice this past weekend. And redemption was duly achieved. The first game between the two saw Pavlova and Malyavko score twice apiece in pacing Biryusa to a 6-1 second-period lead (Yekaterina Lobova and Yelena Mezentseva had the other two Krasnoyarsk goals). Some drama followed; Arktik-Universitet’s star forward Fanuza Kadirova, already with a goal in the game, scored twice more before Liana Ganeyeva added a fourth for the Ukhtans to get them within hailing distance. But by that time it was too late, and the match ended as a 6-4 Biryusa win. Malyavko had an assist to go with her two goals for Biryusa, while for Arktik-Universitet Kadirova’s hat-trick and Diana Bulatova’s three assists were the bright spots.
Game 2 would be much easier for Biryusa, as the held the home side to just 12 shots. Two goals from Pavlova and singles by Malyavko and Mezentseva once again built up a big lead, and though Ganeyeva responded for Arktik-Universitet, this time that was all they could muster. Yekaterina Dobrodeyeva added a late marker for Biryusa en route to a 5-1 win. Malyavko and Dobrodeyeva recorded three points each in the game, while Pavlova’s two-goal effort moved her into a tie for second in the league in that category, behind only Agidel’s Sosina.
The two victories up north catapulted Biryusa past SKIF and into second place in the standings. For Arktik-Universitet, a frustrating season goes on — although the Ukhta side has come close several times, they are still without a victory after ten games.
And so the Women’s Hockey League table now looks like this:
As you can see, it has basically become a four-team tussle for the last three playoff spots, and with just five points separating second from fifth. That should be good for all kinds of drama once action resumes!
In terms of the scoring race, it currently belongs to Olga Sosina, and she is strolling off over the horizon with it. The Agidel forward has scored 11-17-28 in just 12 games, putting her a whopping eight points clear of her Slovakian team-mate Nicol Čupková. Sosina also leads the goals race, although this one is much closer. Sosina’s 11 markers have her just one ahead of fellow Agidel forward Yekaterina Lebedeva and Biryusa’s Valeriya Pavlova.
The Women’s Hockey League now goes on extended hiatus, with no games scheduled until March 1st (whether that will change in the event of an unfavourable IOC decision on the Olympics remains to be seen, and we hope we do not have to find out). Next up for some of the players in the league is a senior national team tournament in Finland from December 12th to 16th. Russia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Japan will make up the field.
Last week also featured the second tournament of Russia’s national U18 women’s hockey championship. Nizhny Novgorod hosted the first round (discussed here), while the most recent games were played in Chelyabinsk. SKIF Nizhny Novgorod’s U18 side is the defending national champion, and had won the first round with a perfect record. The field of teams for Round 2 featured one change from the opening tournament; the “Selects” team from St. Petersburg did not take part this time, and was replaced by the Pervomaiskie Lvitsy, from Korkino very close to Chelyabinsk. Pervomaiskie Lvitsy have been in action this season in the U18 division of the amateur League of Women’s Hockey, and this would be their first taste of national championship games.
Once again, it was SKIF who came out of Round 2 in first place, and once again it was the Selects of Moscow Oblast who gave them their toughest test. Two goals for SKIF by Polina Luchnikova off-set Moscow Oblast markers from Anna Savonina and Anna Lopukhova to send the match to overtime, where it was won for the Nizhny Novgorod side by Anastasiya Medvedeva.
And so SKIF finished at 6-0 for the tournament, taking top spot just ahead of the 5-1 Moscow Oblast team. The Chelyabinsk-based Sergei Makarov Hockey School took third spot at 4-2, with Sverdlovsk Oblast in fourth at 3-3. The team representing the city of Moscow came next at 2-4, while in sixth were the newcomers Pervomaiskie Lvitsy, who did manage to pick up a win over last-place Vologda Oblast. The Vologda Oblast side did go 0-6 for the second straight tournament, but at least got a point this time around by taking the Moscow team to a shootout. For the second straight tournament, Kristi Shashkina of SKIF was the top scorer, although I do not have the exact numbers for her right now.
Finally, there was amateur hockey taking place this past weekend, as the Siberian group of the League of Women’s Hockey (Over-18 division) held their first tournament of the year in Novosibirsk. The field of teams featured three from the host city (Grizli-1, Grizli-2, and Sibirskie Khasky), along with Kuznechanka Novokuznetsk, Sobol Irkutsk, and Yugorchanka Surgut. Grizli-1 were champions of this group last year (for the second straight time), but Sobol shocked everyone by not only sneaking into second place but also qualifying for the national championship tournament.
Grizli-1 came out of the weekend with their championship credentials intact thanks to a 5-0 record and a GF-GA of 48-5. Kuznechanka proved their toughest opponents; the head-to-head game between the two teams saw Grizli-1 come out on top by a 4-2 score, thanks in large part to three points from Olga Kochneva. It would Kuznechanka’s only defeat in five games, as they second place. Sobol came third this time at 2-3, although they will have a chance to repeat last seasons’s fairy tale at the group’s second qualifying tournament early next year. There were actually three teams this time at 2-3, so goal difference was used to sort them out; Sobol as mentioned came third, Sibirskie Khasky fourth, and Grizli-2 in fifth. Last place belonged to Yugorchanka at 0-5.
Of note: the leading scorer at this tournament was Grizli-1 forward Natalya Trunova (5 gp, 6-10-16) — no surprise, as she has been among the top point-getters in the entire league for the past two seasons. That name may (and should) be familiar to women’s hockey fans; a decade and more ago, the now-35-year-old was the starting goalie for the Kazakhstan women’s national team. She represented the country in its only Olympic appearance in women’s hockey in 2002, and at the 2005 IIHF Women’s World Championship she was named to the six-player post-tournament all-star team (the only Kazakh player ever thus honoured). It is heart-warming, to say the least, to see that Trunova is still involved in hockey and doing well at it, even if her goaltending days are behind her (mostly behind her — she did step back between the posts again for Grizli-1 for one game last season)! In any case, she still wears the same number (33) that she did during her international hockey career.
That’s probably enough for this time! Next week, we will discuss, as necessary, matters arising out of today’s hearing in Switzerland or tomorrow’s IOC decision, and look at the national team’s preparations for that tournament in Finland. And whatever else might come up in the meantime. Thank you for reading!