Women’s Hockey Update: February 1st, 2018
Time for another women’s hockey update! We will get to Olga Sosina (above) and the national team’s Olympic preparations, but the big news of the week came today from the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, which recently heard the appeals of 39 Russian athletes convicted by the Oswald Commission of doping offences at the 2014 Games. Among those 39 were eight members of the women’s hockey team from 2014: Inna Dyubanok, Yekaterina Smolentseva, Yekaterina Pashkevich, Anna Shibanova, Tatyana Burina, Anna Shchukina, Galina Skiba, and Yekaterina Lebedeva. Read on, for what the court decided, and some other news notes as well!
Today the CAS released its decisions in those 39 cases; 28 of the convictions are dismissed due to insufficient evidence (link is a PDF), with the athletes’ lifetime suspensions over-turned and their results from the 2014 Games officially reinstated. Five of the hockey players — Smolentseva, Pashkevich, Lebedeva, Burina, and Shchukina — fell into this category. In the other 11 cases (including those of Dyubanok, Skiba, and Shibanova), the CAS ruled that there was sufficient evidence that a doping violation had taken place. However, the court also dismissed the lifetime suspensions for these athletes, and ruled them banned for the 2018 Olympics only.
The reaction from the players who were cleared was understandably one of great relief. “I have the most positive feelings,” said Smolentseva, the now-retired 20-year veteran of the national team. “I endured many sad days. It was unpleasant, because we had done so much for sports, for hockey, and then they just took us and accused us. I expected this decision of the CAS, because there was no evidence…” Said Agidel Ufa defender Shchukina: “I’m very happy at the CAS verdict… I want to quickly forget this nightmare. The accusations of the IOC were very hard to take, because we are innocent. We constantly thought about it, had difficulty sleeping — we really did. Our families and fans worried about us.”
Current women’s national team head coach Alexei Chistyakov was similarly pleased, although he lamented the fact that three of his players were not fully exonerated:
“It’s nice that to a certain extent justice has triumphed — better late than never. It’s a great shame that three girls, who realistically could go to the Games, have not been completely cleared, and they are not able to take part in these Olympics. However, the fact that the lifetime ban has been taken off of them — this is a major plus.”
The Russian Hockey Federation expressed pleasure at the CAS verdict, but also stated that “the coaches will not make any changes to the Russian roster [for Pyeongchang].”
The legal ordeal for the athletes, unfortunately, might not yet be over; the IOC may very well decide to appeal the CAS decision to the Swiss Federal Court, and the matter of invitations to the 2018 Games for those athletes cleared today remains up in the air (as mentioned, that last is unlikely to affect the hockey players). And although none of the hockey players involved have yet said they will do so, some of their accused colleagues are reportedly considering suing the IOC for damage to reputation and the like. We will see what the next days bring.
To the ice! The women’s national team has been preparing for the Olympics, for the past week or so, in the Far-Eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk. The Russian lineup was mentioned here last week; in addition to thse “main roster” players, forwards Yekaterina Likhachyova (SKIF Nizhny Novgorod) and Tatyana Shatalova (Biryusa Krasnoyarsk) along with goalie Valeriya Merkusheva (Dynamo St. Petersburg) are with the team as practice players and reserves.
The preparations have included a pair of warm-up games against boys from the youth program at local KHL club Amur Khabarovsk. This past Sunday, the national team took on the Amur-2003 team, and beat the boys 5-2; Lyudmila Belyakova, Yekaterina Smolina, Yelena Dergachyova, Valeriya Pavlova, and Anna Shokhina scored the goals, while Olga Sosina chipped in three assists. On Tuesday, the national-teamers faced off against Amur-2002 (reinforced with some guys from the 2001-born team), but this time the win went to the locals by a score of 6-2. Pavlova and Shtaryova scored the goals for the women’s team. This coming Sunday, the team will travel to South Korea, and next Tuesday will face the Swedish women’s squad in an exhibition match. The Olympic tournament proper will begin for them on February 11th, with a game against Canada.
It appears almost certain that Olga Sosina will be named team captain for Pyeongchang — a fine choice, and it will not be her first time wearing the ‘C’ either. The redoubtable Agidel Ufa forward this week described the anticipation in the squad, saying “Everyone wants the Olympics to get underway more quickly… [We] can’t wait for the start, because it is always much more interesting to play than to prepare.”
Turning to the domestic game, there is some action to look forward to this weekend in the amateur League of Women’s Hockey. The second and final qualifying tournament of Group B — the Siberia-based group — will take place in Novosibirsk, with six teams involved. Those clubs: Grizli-1 and Grizli-2 Novosibirsk, Sibirskie Khaski Novosibirsk, Kuznechanka Novokuznetsk, Sobol Irkutsk, and Yugorchanka Surgut.
At stake here is a ticket, and perhaps two of them, to the national amateur championship tournament this coming spring. Grizli-1 currently hold top spot with a 5-0 record and ten points, looking to book a trip to the nationals for the third consecutive year. Depending on how things go in other groups, the second-place team may also qualify for the national championship; Kuznechanka come into to this weekend holding onto that spot, with eight points and a four-point lead over a three-way tie for third.
This weekend’s games will run Friday through Sunday, and we will have a full recap here next week!
Finally, a quick note from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where Russian forward Iya Gavrilova and her Calgary Inferno team-mates were in action this past weekend with a pair of games against the Toronto Fury. It turned out to be a tough couple of days for the Inferno; after dropping Saturday’s opener 3-2 to the Fury, they were beaten again on Sunday, this time by 5-2. Gavrilova picked up one assist in the two games (in the second, to be precise), and now has a season line of 6-7-13 in 18 games.
That’s about it for this time. In next week’s women’s hockey update, we’ll update you on preparations for the Olympics, and recap the weekend’s amateur hockey tournament. Plus anything else that might crop up in the meantime, of course. Thank you for reading!