Olympic Update: February 19th, 2018
On Monday, for the first time ever, the Russian women’s national team played an Olympic hockey semi-final, with the powerhouse Canadian side as the opponent. These two teams have already met, of course, in the group stage at the 2018 Games, and on that occasion Canada emerged with a 5-0 victory and a 48-18 shot advantage. So it was going to be very hard sledding indeed for the Russian side. How did it go? Read on…
Russian Head Coach Alexei Chistyakov decided to rest goalie Nadezhda Morozova for the upcoming medal match, and so it was Valeriya Tarakanova who got the start in the semifinal, with Nadezhda Alexandrova available as back-up. Tarakanova was beaten early in the first period, by Jennifer Wakefield, but settled down thereafter and got her team to the first break still down only 1-0. In fact, the Russians could oh-so-easily have on level terms with the Canadians, had Yelena Dergachyova been able to finish off a gilt-edged chance with the gaping net at her mercy. The second period followed much the same pattern as the first: an early Canadian goal (Marie-Philip Poulin this time) was followed by strong play from Tarakanova. Down 2-0 after 40 minutes against Canada could count as a decent performance for the Russian players, though they had been heavily out-shot. The Russian penalty-kill, a weakness at times earlier in the tournament, had done very well too, successfully snuffing out four Canadian powerplays.
However, early in the third, the Canadians put any thoughts of a possible miracle comeback to rest. Wakefield scored inside the first two minutes, and just thirty seconds after that Emily Clark extended the lead to 4-0. That was the end of the night for Tarakanova, as coach Chistyakov sent out Alexandrova to take over the netminding duties. With six minutes left, the valiant Russian penalty-kill was finally overcome, as Rebecca Johnston made the score 5-0. That was the last of the scoring in this one, but the game came to an end on something of a surly note. Yevgeniya Dyupina took a frustration-fueled run at Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados, then squared off briefly with Brigette Lacquette, who had come to her netminder’s defence. However, nothing serious developed, and Canada is off to the gold medal game against the U.S. The Russian team advances to play for a medal for the first time ever in Olympic women’s hockey; they will take on Finland in the bronze medal game.
And so the second verse between these two teams turned out to be much like the first: the same winner and final score, and very similarly lopsided shot totals (47-14 in Canada’s favour in this one). But overall this was not in fact a terrible performance by the Russian team, especially compared to games against Canada in years past. Tarakanova was very good in goal in the first two periods, and — as already mentioned a couple of times — Russia coped well with the Canadian powerplay, giving up only one goal in seven times shorthanded. Not to pick too hard on Dergachyova, who is a fine player, but we really do have to wonder what might have been had she buried that first-period chance… On the downside, the Russian team in general had a real problem coming out of the dressing room flat in this one; four of Canada’s five goals arrived within the first three and a half minutes of a period. The coaching staff will have taken note of that, I am sure.
Both the coaching staff and the players on the Russian team certainly took note of the officiating in this one; Russia was shorthanded seven times, Canada just once. Coming in for particularly sharp comment was a nasty high stick to the neck of Anna Shokhina during the second period that went uncalled. Both Shokhina herself and Chistyakov, among others, spoke out about it after the game, although the Russian Hockey Federation subsequently declined to file any sort of formal complaint.
Apart from the anger over the refereeing, the post-game comments of many of the Russian players actually reflected a guarded positivity about the team’s play. Forward Valeriya Pavlova had a fairly typical response when asked her opinion of the match:
“We played more calmly than in the first game. Then, we played more defensively, but today we attacked, trying to play more freely. We can’t say that anything changed as regards the score, but in terms of chances the situation was better this time, even though we didn’t get a goal.“
And so it is off to the bronze medal game against Finland, which will take place on Wednesday. This will be the second meeting between these two sides at the 2018 Games, and the fourth overall at the Olympics. The history is a bit ominous for the Russian side, as the Finns have won all three of their prior encounters, each of them by exactly four goals (5-1 at the group stage in 2010, 4-0 in the 5th-place game in 2014, and 5-1 once again at the group stage this year in South Korea). So it will not be easy for coach Chistyakov and the players, particularly as the most recent of those defeats came just a few days ago. On the other hand, if the Russian players can find the type of performance they showed against Switzerland in the quarterfinal (and indeed, at times against Canada today), they can certainly win this game. With a medal at stake, there will obviously be no shortage of motivation on both sides, and it should make for a tremendously intense game.
Thank you for reading!