U18 Women’s Worlds Update!
There are just four teams left standing at the Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Dmitrov, Russia! The host side, coming off its massive upset of Team Canada last Saturday, are indeed one of them, but there have been some bumps along the way. Read on, for an update on how Team Russia has been getting along!
After Russia’s tremendous victory over Canada at the Under-18 Women’s Worlds last Saturday, the big question was: what next? What next was a group-stage match against the United States on Sunday, and that one saw poor discipline contribute heavily to a bad start by Head Coach Yevgeny Bobariko’s crew. Just 16 minutes in, Team Russia found itself down 4-0, with all the goals having come on American powerplays (Taylor Heise, Britta Curl, Margaret Nicholson, and Hannah Bilka were the scorers, the last of those with a two-player advantage). That was it for starting goalie Milena Tretyak, replaced by the previous day’s heroine Diana Farkhutdinova.
Give Team Russia some credit; they settled down well after that disastrous first period, and got on the board thanks to Ilona Markova, on the powerplay, halfway through the middle frame. Though Curl later restored the four-goal lead with her second of the match, the Russians were performing much better by this point. And in the the third, they kept coming. as the U.S. took its turn to get into penalty trouble. Anastasiya Pestova and Anastasiya Medvedeva (the latter with Russia up two players) scored on the powerplay, and the final score would be 5-3 for the Americans. Not a bad end result at all, after that terrible start, but a loss nonetheless.
With Russia at 1-1 for the tournament, it was time for the final group-stage game, on Tuesday against Sweden and impressive goalie Anna Amholt. Amholt had already turned in a 57-save performance to take the Americans to overtime (the U.S. had ended up winning it 2-1, but still), and she pitched another gem against Russia. Farkhutdinova was back between the pipes for the host team, but she conceded first-period goals to Lina Ljungblom and Agnes Wilhelmsson to give Sweden a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. And though Russia pushed back hard, they seemed to have trouble generating much cohesive play. Even six straight minor penalties to Sweden, starting in the late second period and stretching into the third, failed to spark the Russian offence. When all was said and done, Amholt had made 26 stops, and that 2-0 scoreline was still on the board. The result meant that Sweden grabbed second spot in Group A — the first non-North-American team ever to do so at this tournament — and with it the automatic bye to the semifinals. Team Russia’s attention turned to a quarterfinal match-up on Wednesday against Finland, who had finished second in Group B.
Under the format used at the U18 Women’s Worlds, the quarterfinal takes on extra importance. Not only does it provide passage to the semifinal, and thus an automatic shot at a medal, but winning the quarterfinal game guarantees a team a spot in Group A for the next year’s tournament (among other things, Group A teams are immune to any threat of relegation from the IIHF’s top division). And after following their historic win with two straight losses, Team Russia was under some pressure to rescue a good outcome at their home tournament. So this was a very important game on a number of levels.
The pressure may have shown in the first period against Finland, as Russia took three minor penalties to their opponents’ one, and came out of the opening 20 minutes having been out-shot 11-4. But Farkhutdinova, starting once again in net for Team Russia, kept the Finns off the board, and the score remained at 0-0. The parade to the box continued in the second period; the Russians received four more minors, again to the Finns’ one. But this time, however, Coach Bobariko’s team managed an 10-3 shot advantage, despite the penalties, and took the lead seven minutes into the middle frame. Good work by Darya Beloglazova and Oxana Bratishcheva in front of the Finnish net resulted in the puck finding an un-marked Mariya Alexandrova, and she fired home from a sharp angle. Just two minutes later, on the powerplay, the same trio struck again. Bratishcheva sent Alexandrova away up the left wing, and the latter centred for Beloglazova, who stuffed the puck past Finnish goalie Sanni Ahola on the second try. 2-0 Russia after 40 minutes.
As expected Finland pushed back hard in the third period, and Farkhutdinova had to be very sharp on more than one occasion. The Finns were aided in their pressuring by two more minor penalties to Team Russia, for a coach-displeasing match total of nine (Finland took just two all game). But by this time the Russian players were back to their successful counterattacking style, and carved out some great chances of their own. Despite the opportunities at both ends, neither team found the scoresheet in the final 20 minutes, the game ended still at 2-0, and it is Team Russia that advances to Friday’s semifinal round. There, they will have a chance for some revenge against Amholt and Team Sweden. For the winner of that game, a berth in the gold medal final awaits, against the winner of the USA-Canada semifinal also being played on Friday.
So, as I said at the top, there have been some twists and turns along the way. Team Russia would have hoped that their win over Canada would spur them to a top-two finish in Group A, and the automatic semifinal spot, but is wasn’t to be. Penalties are an issue — Russia has been shorthanded 21 times in four games, tied with Canada for most at the tournament, and have given up five powerplay goals, with the caveat that four of those came in the first period against the Americans (“small sample size” alert, and all that). Staying out of the box will be key on Friday against the Swedes.
On the other hand, the team has also shown an ability to play some tremendous hockey. We could start with Farkhutdinova, whose .950 sv% puts her second at the tournament behind only Amholt’s .957. The trio of Beloglazova, Bratishcheva, and Alexandrova has combined to score five of Russia’s eight goals and contribute ten total points. Those three played together as a line for the first time in the group-stage game against Sweden, and although it may have taken a bit of time to find the chemistry, they were oh-so-important in getting by Finland. We will see if Coach Bobariko sends them out together again for a second try at Team Sweden on Friday. Yelena Provorova, meanwhile, has chipped in three assists from defence, and she has another year of U18 eligibility remaining. Finally, and whatever happens hereafter, Russia will come away from this tournament with that first-ever victory over a North American team, plus the added bonus that it was a fully earned and deserved win as well!
Next update here on this tournament will come on Saturday, when all has been said and done! Tomorrow, however, we will a women’s hockey update on the senior national team’s trip to the Nations Cup last week, some Olympic news, and the Women’s Hockey League All-Star game, which was played today in Astana, Kazakhstan. Thank you for reading!