Women’s Hockey Update: January 11th, 2018
This is the “non-U18 Women’s Worlds” update for this week; you can check out yesterday’s post for how that tournament is going along! But read on here for a recap of the Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game, which took place yesterday, and a look at what the senior women’s national team got up to last week. And there are a few bits and pieces of Olympic news as well.
On Wednesday of this week, the Women’s Hockey League held its second annual All-Star Game, this one in Astana, Kazakhstan. Last year’s in event, in Ufa, featured an All-Star Game rarity: a shutout, as the West team took the match 4-0. This year, the East team featured players from Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, Agidel Ufa, and SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, while the West drew from Tornado Moscow Oblast, Dynamo St. Petersburg, and Arktik-Universitet Ukhta. There were no players this year from SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, with many of that club’s top stars currently at work for the Russian Under-18 national team. You can see the full rosters for both teams here.
In addition, with the game in Astana, there were three players from the Kazakh Women’s League involved today. Defenders Fatima Kitaibekova and Galiya Nurgaliyeva, of the Tomiris Astana team, played for the East, while forward Zarina Tukhtiyeva of Aisulu Almaty turned out for the West.
After last year’s loss, the East was out for revenge in this one, and jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead. Valeriya Pavlova of Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and Yekaterina Lebedeva of Agidel Ufa were the scorers against Tornado Moscow Oblast goalie Nadezhda Alexandrova. The West, however, hit back in the second period, getting goals from Diana Kanayeva of Dynamo St. Petersburg and Tornado’s Nina Pirogova to level the score. Midway through, the two teams changed goalies, with Dynamo’s Valeriya Merkusheva coming in for the West, and Nadezhda Morozova of Biryusa replacing Agidel Ufa’s Anna Prugova in the East net. Shortly thereafter, the redoubtable Agidel star Olga Sosina put the East back on top by 3-2. The goal would turn out to be the winner; there was no further scoring from that point on. And so the all-time All-Star series now stands at a game apiece!
The game itself was not the only entertainment for the evening; the intermissions featured the players taking part in a brief skills competition. In this, the Agidel players excelled. Alexandra Vafina took home the fastest skater prize, rounding the rink in 12.8 seconds, while the aforementioned Sosina as judged the winner of the shootout competition. And the East team presented a small dance routine for the fans, set to Kazakh music. A good time, in other words, was had by all!
None of the three Kazakh League players recorded a point in this one, but there was still some exciting news to be had about women’s hockey in Kazakhstan. There has been talk all winter of the possibility of Tomiris Astana joining the Russian-based Women’s Hockey League as its first foreign member team, and this week Askar Shopobayev, President of KHL club Barys Astana (of which Tomiris are a part), confirmed that the budget is now in place for that move. And KHL Vice-President Georgy Kobylyansky said that all parties are “close to an agreement.” It sounds very much, and reasonably enough, like the Tomiris team that joins the Women’s Hockey League will in effect be the Kazakh national women’s tea, which is currently in Division 1B, the third tier of the IIHF’s World Championship system (h/t to Tomáš Vorčák for this story).
The other bit of news to get caught up on is the Women’s Nations Cup, which took place in Germany last week. The Russian senior national team was involved, in a three-team group with Finland and the Canadian U22 developmental team (Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden made up the other group). For the national team, it was the last action before next month’s Olympic Games.
Russia’s first opponents at the Nations Cup were the young Canadians, and it was something of an odd game. Also a chippy one, as each team took nine minor penalties. However, goalies Nadezhda Morozova and Tricia Deguire were pitching shutouts until the dying moments of the game, when the floodgates opened a bit. With just 95 seconds left in the third period, Valeriya Pavlova — as she would do a week later at the All-Star Game — opened the scoring to give Russia a 1-0 lead, and that was quickly stretched to 2-0 by an Anna Shokhina empty-netter with a minute to play. Team Canada responded, however, breaking Morozova’s shutout bid through Rebecca Leslie with only 25 seconds left. That was all the scoring there was, and Team Russia took away a 2-1 win.
The Russians did not wait so long to open the scoring against Finland in their second game; they were up 1-0 thanks to Olga Sosina just 26 seconds in. Tanja Niskanen then equalized for Finland, but a Viktoriya Kulishova goal put Russia back in front after 20 minutes. Midway through the second period, Lyudmila Belyakova stretched the lead to 3-1, but Jenni Hiirikoski got Finland back with one before the second period was over. That would prove to be key, as with ten minutes to go, Finland once again tied up the game, this time through Susanna Tapani. Russian coach Alexei Chistyakov chose to make a goalie change at this point, inserting Morozova in favour of Nadezhda Alexandrova. No further scoring ensued during the third period, and likewise in overtime, so off to a hootout we went. There, it was a somewhat unlikely heroine who won it for Team Russia; Tornado Moscow Oblast defender Mariya Batalova scored the vital penalty-shot in a 4-3 victory.
The win gave Russia top spot in the group, and a spot in the gold-medal game against Sweden. Once again, Pavlova got things going for Team Russia with a goal five minutes in. There followed a long lull; in fact it was not until midway through the third period that the scoring resumed. This time it Yelena Dergachyova pushing Russia’s lead to 2-0, and that was quickly followed by Pavlova’s second goal of the game. Trailing 3-0, Sweden pulled goalie Sarah Grahn, but Shokhina once struck with the net empty to put the result beyond doubt. The Swedes did get some consolation when Jessica Adolfsson broke Morozova’s shutout with just under two minutes to play, but in the end it was Team Russia taking home the win and the tournament title with a 4-1 victory.
Next up, as mentioned above, for the women’s national team are the Olympic Games in South Korea. However, with the whole doping allegations situation hanging over the team, it may be some time before we know exactly who will be making the trip. The preliminary roster for the team has reportedly been submitted to the IOC, who will make the final decision on each player’s admissibility by January 28th. In the meantime, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, will hear the appeals of the eight Russian players banned for life from the Olympics last month by the Oswald Commission; those hearings will likely be held the week of January 22nd.
Whatever happens, the Russian women’s team will prepare for the Games with a training camp in far-eastern Khabarovsk, before hopefully voyaging to Pyeongchang. “We are preparing purposefully, and we will not depart from our plan,” was the comment of national team Head Coach Alexei Chistyakov this week; he also criticized the Oswald Commission’s decisions as “not quite appropriate and honest.” We will see what happens next, and will certainly keep you updated here.
In happier Olympics-related women’s hockey news, it appears that the IIHF is pushing a plan to increase the number of teams at the Games, from the current eight to ten, in time for 2022. If the change happens, it will bring the Olympics in line with the senior Women’s World Championship, which will expand to ten teams in 2019.
That’s all for this week! In next week’s women’s hockey update, we will have some updates on Women’s Hockey League action (although the league is on its Olympic break, a couple of rescheduled games from December will be played next week), as well as whatever else may happen in the meantime. The U18 Women’s Worlds will get their own wrap-up post on Saturday or Sunday. And on the men’s side we also have some KHL coverage on the way, as that league’s playoff races get down to the dramatic final games. Thank you for reading!