Women’s Hockey Update: December 18th, 2017
It is Monday, so time for another update on Russian women’s hockey! This time around, there is an international tournament to recap, along with some new developments in the on-going Olympic saga. There are a couple of other bits and pieces, too, so read on!
Amidst all of the Olympics-related furor that has been swirling around the last little while (more on that in a little while), the Russian women’s national team got out and played some games last week. The venue was the five-team Pre-Olympic Cup tournament in Finland. In addition to the hosts and Russia, participants included Germany, Japan, and Sweden. You can see the full Russian roster here.
Coach Alexei Chistyakov’s wards got their tournament off to a roaring start against Sweden last Wednesday; two goals from Valeriya Pavlova in the game’s opening six minutes staked Russia to a 2-0 lead, and it was 3-0 when Skiba scored before the end of the first period. A scoreless second followed, despite 15 Russian shots in the direction of Swedish goalie Minatsu Murase. In the final frame, Hanna Olsson spoiled Nadezhda Morozova’s shutout bit with ten minutes to play, and Sweden piled on the pressure from there. However, they could get another puck past Morozova, and Alevtina Shtaryova’s empty-netter sealed the result late one; a 4-1 Russian victory, and a very solid start to the tournament.
Thursday’s second game for Team Russia featured Germany as the opponent, and once again the Red Machine was ahead early, as Shtaryova picked up where she had left off in Game 1. The redoubtable Olga Sosina made it 2-0 very late in the first period, and her team kept the pressure on through the middle 20 minutes. However, the only goal of the second period came from Germany’s Marie Delarbre, and the Russian lead was just 2-1 heading into the third. But Russia’s defence locked down in that last frame, holding the Germans to just four shots on Valeriya Tarakanova, and Pavlova’s third goal of the tournament gave some insurance with seven minutes left. It would finish 3-1, giving Russia a 2-0 record with two to play.
Next up, on Friday, was Japan, and for the first time in the tournament Russia failed to find the net in the first period. Lyudmila Belyakova rectified that problem four minutes into the second, but the 1-0 lead would be short-lived, as Naho Terashima equalized for Japan just three minutes thereafter. Nothing daunted, Russia got back in front late in the middle period, through defender Nina Pirogova, and for the second straight game held a 2-1 lead heading into the third. Once again, Russia’s defence was stalwart in those last 20 minutes, as Nadezhda Alexandrova had but a pair of shots to save. It went down to the wire this time, with no further scoring, but Russia came out ahead by 2-1 and possessing a perfect 3-0 record for the tournament.
In fact, results elsewhere meant that Team Russia had at this point clinched the tournament title with one game still to play. That, and the fact that it was Russia’s fourth game in four days, meant that Saturday’s closing tilt against the host Finns was always going to be a tough proposition. And indeed it was; Tarakanova faced 38 shots in the contest, while her team-mates mustered just 13 in response against Noora Räty. Finland broke through in the second, as Michelle Karvinen gave her a team a 1-0 lead. Then, with Russia running on fumes in the third, Linda Välimäki and Noora Tulus ran the lead to 3-0, and that was how the game ended. The result enabled Finland to seal second place in the tournament, while the Swedes collected the bronze.
Despite the heavy loss to Finland, coach Chistyakov and the Russian players can be quite cheerful about the tournament as a whole; they did, after all, win it. Pavlova’s performance (4 gp, 3-1-4) was a particular highlight; the 22-year-old Biryusa Krasnoyarsk forward has fully answered any questions about her return to form after a season away on maternity leave. Shtaryova also impressed (4 gp, 2-1-3), and her Tornado Moscow Oblast line-mate Anna Shokhina contributed three assists. All three Russian goalies did very well, and coaching staff will also be pleased at how the defence performed in protecting narrow leads against Germany and Japan. All-round, it was a solid performance.
The Russian women’s national team is scheduled to be back in action right away and against a now-familiar opponent, with a pair of exhibition games versus Japan in Nagano this coming Sunday and Monday.
Unfortunately, there is of course still a cloud hanging of the Russian women’s national team, stemming from the lifetime suspensions handed out last week to six members of the 2014 Olympic squad. Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak announced today that those six players (Inna Dyubanok, Yekaterina Lebedeva, Yekaterina Pashkevich, Anna Shibanova, Galina Skiba, and Yekaterina Smolentseva) will launch appeals this week to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, and will have the Federation’s full backing as they do so. Currently, the players are suspended only by the IOC, and thus are free to continue with the national team in non-Olympic competition. Three of them (Dyubanok, Shibanova, and Skiba) were included in the squad for the above-discussed Pre-Olympic Cup tournament.
There may be further complications in store, however. It was also reported today, via International Ice Hockey Federation President René Fasel, that the Oswald Commission has summoned two more players (yet un-named) from the 2014 Olympic women’s team in connection with doping allegations. That hearing will be held this coming Wednesday, although when a verdict can be expected remains unknown. More details as I get them on this particular story.
There was some good news on the Olympic front today: the IIHF confirmed that it formally supports the Russian women’s team’s participation in the 2018 Games in South Korea, and has submitted a list of candidate players to the International Olympic Committee. The final decision on the matter rests with the IOC (it is expected, per Fasel, “in the coming days”), but the support of the sport’s world governing body is no small thing.
Fasel also elaborated today on the IIHF’s official stance on the whole Olympic matter as it relates to the Russian teams:
“Obviously, I am not happy with this decision of the IOC [to bar the Russian flag and anthem from the Games], but it has been made, and we will live with it. Now my task and the task of the IIHF becomes to ensure that the consequences do as little damage as possible, and to continue constructive work not only with Russia, but also with all the other countries. I admit, I am pleasantly surprised that both Russian national teams — men’s and women’s — have been supported by the hockey family. Support came even from the Canadians and Americans — this is a very good sign, a sign of solidarity in our sport.”
Back to the ice! Group G of the amateur League of Women’s Hockey held its first qualifying tournament this past weekend, in Kazan. Hosts Forvard Kazan were of course present, as were last season’s group-winners Malakhit Yekaterinburg. The rest of the field was comprised of returning squads Angely Kirov and Soyuz Penza, along with newcomers Rost-Khimik Nizhny Novgorod. And there was something of a surprise in store…
Well, maybe not that much of a surprise; Nizhny Novogorod is a power-centre in Russian women’s hockey, with a former national champion professional club (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod of the Women’s Hockey League) whose Under-18 program is currently the best in the country. So perhaps we should be too shocked to see Rost-Khimik, despite this being their first season in the top amateur league, atop the standings. The newcomers won all four of their games, outscoring their opponents 19-1 (only Malakhit managed to breach the Rost-Khimik defence), and so took all eight possible standings points home from the weekend.
Second place in Group G at the moment belongs to Soyuz, who went 2-2, while Malakhit finished in third with one win, two losses, and a tie. Hosts Forvard finished with an identical record, but ended up in fourth place due to having lost their game against Malakhit (Forvard could take some comfort from having given Rost-Khimik their toughest test before going down to defeat by only 1-0). Fifth went to the Angels of Kirov, who failed to win a game but manage two ties in their four contests. So it was a fairly competitive first tournament, all-in-all.
Rost-Khimik captain Larisa Teplygina, who plays on defence, nonetheless currently holds the Group G scoring lead with five goals and two assists in her team’s four games. Teplygina is a former pro; she patrolled the blue-line for SKIF Nizhny Novgorod (and earlier, SKIF Moscow) for more than a decade before retiring from the professional game in 2015.
We will finish off this week with an update on Calgary Inferno forward Iya Gavrilova, the lone Russian player in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League at the moment. The Inferno played a two-game set against the Toronto Furies this weekend, and it went very well indeed. In Saturday’s game, Gavrilova was on hand to score the overtime winner in a 4-3 Calgary victory; she also posted a team-best +3 in that contest! The Inferno completed the sweep on Sunday with a 6-3 win, and Gavrilova added an assist to her weekend tally. She now has a line of 4-6-10 in 12 games, tying her for 16th in the league in point and 18th in goals.
Next week (or possibly sooner) we’ll get you caught up on any developments in the Olympic story, along with recaps of the two Russia-Japan games from this coming weekend plus anything else that might crop up in the meantime. Thank you for reading!