Women’s Hockey Update: January 17th, 2018
With the Under-18 Women’s World Championship finished up, there was a bit of lull — though not a complete one — in the on-ice action this week. However, that does mean that there was no news at all! Read on, for recaps of a couple of re-scheduled Women’s Hockey League games, plus a transfer move involving a fairly big-name player.
The big news of the week, as mentioned, involved one the Women’s Hockey League‘s top netminders switching teams. Mariya Sorokina, who had spent the last three-and-a-bit seasons with Dynamo St. Petersburg, is on her way to Agidel Ufa. In the 22-year-old from Tver, Agidel are getting a goalie who last season posted the league’s best sv% (.926 in 34 games) as she helped Dynamo to their first-ever top-three finish. Sorokina was one of the three finalists for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award (it eventually went to Tornado’s Anna Shokhina), and was included in the Russian roster for the Women’s World Championship. This past off-season, she was drafted by the Markham Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, although she opted to remain with Dynamo for 2017-18.
But this summer the St. Petersburg club brought in hot-shot young goalie Valeriya Merkusheva from SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, and the 18-year-old has proceeded to make the Dynamo starting job her own. Coming off a season in which she was named best goalie at the Under-18 Women’s Worlds, Merkusheva has put up a .953 sv%, best in the league, while playing in 10 of Dynamo’s 12 games so far. Sorokina has made just three appearances, albeit with an excellent .938 sv%. And although Sorokina did play for Russia against NWHL sides during this fall’s tour of the U.S., national team coach Alexei Chistyakov has lately seemed to prefer Nadezhda Morozova, Nadezhda Alexandrova, and Valeriya Tarakanova as his goalies. So perhaps a change of scenery was in order.
In Ufa, Sorokina will join another excellent goalie in Anna Prugova. Prugova has been a one-woman show for Agidel this season, playing in all 12 games and posting a superb .949 sv% (second only to Merkusheva in the league). Her back-up until now, 18-year-old Darya Martynyukova, has only two periods of Women’s Hockey League experience, so Sorokina’s arrival provides at the very least some much-needed depth should injuries strike. And perhaps Sorokina can once again catch the eye of the selectors for the national team. Her contract with Agidel runs until the end of this season.
There were a couple of Women’s Hockey League games this week as well, as lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast traveled to Dmitrov to face defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast in a pair of matches re-scheduled from early December. While Tornado have not (yet) been their usual dominant selves this season, the form book coming in suggested that they would have little difficulty with winless SKSO. And indeed they did not.
Game 1 of the set saw Tornado sprint out to a 5-0 lead by early in the second period. They did give up a goal at that point, to SKSO’s Yuliya Vasyukova, but then rattled off another six of their own en route to an 11-1 victory and a 52-12 shots-on-goal advantage. Anna Shokhina and Yelena Dergachyova contributed hat-tricks to the cause, with Shokhina leading all scorers with six points. There was also a bit of a statistical oddity: Tornado defenders Angelina Goncharenko and Nina Pirogova combined for only one assist (Goncharenko’s), but each posted a plus-minus of +8. If SKSO could take any positive from the game, beyond their lone goal, it was that they successfully killed off six of seven Tornado power-plays, including about 30 seconds of five-on-three.
The second game’s script followed that of the first, although SKSO were able to push their shot total up to a reasonable 21 in this one (they conceded 59). But it did little good; Tornado led 8-0 after 40 minutes, and although Vasyukova once again provided a consolation goal for SKSO, the final score read 10-1. Tornado players recorded another two hat-tricks (Lyudmila Belyakova and Alevtina Shtaryova, this time), and Shokhina finished with her second straight six-point game, having scored two goals and added four assists.
The two wins push Tornado up to second place in the standings at the halfway point of their season; they now trail Agidel Ufa by seven points with both teams having played 12 games. And Shokhina’s points spree ran her season line to 12 gp, 8-13-21, good for second place in the scoring race behind only Agidel’s Olga Sosina (12 gp, 11-17-28). While SKSO are hardly the toughest opposition, seeing Shokhina break out on the scoresheet will be good news for Tornado, as the defending scoring champion had been distinctly off her usual form this season. Shokhina, you may recall, was acquitted by the IOC in December of doping charges related to the 2014 Olympics, and it is not hard to imagine how much of a psychological burden was lifted from the 20-year-old’s shoulders when that decision came down! It will be very interesting to see how the rest of her season goes.
And with that, the Women’s Hockey League now goes on hiatus until the Olympics are over; games will resume in early March. The next bits of news anticipated here are Olympic-related: by the end of January we should know which players the IOC will permit to play for the Russian team at the Games. As well, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be hearing the appeals of the eight women’s national teamers whom the Oswald Commission suspended in December over doping allegations from the 2014 Games in Sochi. From reports today, the hockey players are all included in the second group of athletes who will have their appeals heard, so those proceedings should take place sometime between January 25th and 28th, with the decisions to be made public by February 2nd.
The main piece of Olympic women’s hockey news this week had nothing to do with Russia, but is worth noting: it seems that North Korean players will take part in the women’s tournament as members of a unified “Team Korea.” This move has been made as part of recent negotiations between the two Koreas on the subject of Olympic participation. While I think many would agree that the move is likely a good one from a geopolitical standpoint, the last couple of days have seen some objections raised on practical grounds. South Korean Head Coach Sarah Murray has stated some worries about the effects of the “merger” at such a late date, and has asked the IIHF and IOC to allow for an expanded Korean roster so that deserving South Korean players do not miss out. The Swiss Hockey Federation, meanwhile, suggested today that the move is unfair to other nations who will use their own players. We will see it all turns out.
And that’s it for this week. Next week’s update will include whatever news there is to be had — thank you for reading!