Women’s Hockey Update: March 6th, 2018
The Women’s Hockey League came out of its Olympic break this past week, and it did so in a big way, with 12 games on the schedule as the playoff picture begins to solidify. There were some thrilling games in there too, as well as a historic moment for Agidel Ufa, so read on for recaps, and for a look at some action this past weekend in Russia’s amateur U18 league.
As mentioned, the Women’s Hockey League got back into game action this week. The first pair of games, last Wednesday and Thursday, featured defending champions Tornado Moscow Oblast visiting St. Petersburg to take on Dynamo. Tornado have recovered a bit after a slow start to the season by their standards, but they found themselves in deep water in the first game. Dynamo, thanks to two goals by Yekaterina Smolina and one by Yevgeniya Dyupina (all three assisted on by Diana Kanayeva), led 3-0 after 40 minutes. Though Tornado poured it on in the final period, outshooting Dynamo 14-1 and getting goals from Mariya Batalova and Anna Shokhina, they could not get the equalizer in the end, and the St. Petersburg side came out winners by 3-2.
In the second game, Tornado asserted themselves from the outset, but found Dynamo goalie Valeriya Merkusheva in an impermeable mood. She had stopped 35 of 37 in the first game; in the second, she made 40 saves on 41 shots. But that one goal, by Alyona Starovoitova early in the second period, proved crucial, as Dynamo could get none of their 14 shots past Tornado netminder Nadezhda Alexandrova. 1-0 it finished to Tornado, although of the two teams Dynamo will likely be the happier with the split.
Meanwhile, SKIF Nizhny Novgorod were in Yekaterinburg to face lowly SK Sverdlovsk Oblast and their new coach Sergei Chistyakov. SKSO are still wandering in the wilderness, and the first game of the set showed that: SKIF led 2-0 after 20 minutes minutes on a pair of Oxana Bratishcheva goals, then poured it on the second. The big story would by Olga Semenets, the former Russian national-teamer who played last season in the Russian amateur league. She scored a second-period hat-trick, then added a fourth in the final frame to make the end result 8-1 for SKIF. Yekaterina Solovyova scored the consolation marker for SKSO.
The second game was much as the first had been; another eight goals from SKIF, although this time it was Landish Falyakhova getting the headlines after recording four points (2-2-4). Polina Luchnikova also scored a pair of goals, while Valeriya Tarakanova had a relatively quiet time of it in goal, stopping all 13 shots that came her way. Two wins in fairly routine fashion for SKIF, and for SKSO the long hunt for a victory, or even a point, continues.
The other series that took place last week was an intriguing one, as league-leaders Agidel Ufa were in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk to face a tricky Biryusa side. For the first half of Game 1, the Ufans, though dominating on the shot-clock, could not solve Biryusa goalie Nadezhda Morozova, who would go on to make 35 saves. Finally, however, Anna Shibanova gave Agidel the lead late in the second period. Though Biryusa pushed back hard, they could not get a puck past Anna Prugova in the Agidel net, and the visitors added a shorthanded goal by Nicol Čupková and final clincher by the formidable Olga Sosina for a 3-0 victory.
Despite Prugova’s 16-save shutout in Game 1, Agidel coach Denis Afinogenov gave the Game 2 start to newly-acquired Mariya Sorokina. But her Agidel debut got off to a bit of a rocky start, when Valeriya Pavlova put Biryusa ahead late in the first. Despite peppering Morozova with shots (she would face 48 in the game), Agidel had to wait until late in the second for their equalizer, which arrived courtesy of Yekaterina Lebedeva. And in the last three minutes the third, as the game appeared bound for overtime, up popped Sosina to score what would turn out to be the winner. Lebedeva added a second with just 12 seconds left, making the final 3-1 and giving Agidel the sweep.
With that important (and dominant) sweep of Biryusa in their pocket, Agidel headed to Yekaterinburg to take on SKSO yesterday and today. Given the teams’ relative talent-levels, it must be said that the results were hardly in doubt. But SKSO had some good moments in the first game, keeping Agidel to only a 1-0 lead well into the second period before four Ufan goals in under three minutes broke the game open. It would finish as an 8-0 Agidel victory, with the shots on goal telling their own story at 64-10 (Anna Prugova got the shutout). In all, seven different Agidel players found the net, with Alexandra Vafina the lone two-goal scorer. Oddly, among the goalscorers was not Olga Sosina, but the league’s points-leader had a fine day nonetheless with five assists.
Of particular note was the final goal of the first game, scored by defender Alexandra Kapustina; it was the 1000th Women’s Hockey League goal in the history of Agidel Ufa. The first, by the way was scored in the 2010-11 season by Yelizaveta Kirillova (I am grateful to Rustam Fayruzov for that piece of information).
The second game followed the same pattern as the first, although this time SKSO held Agidel to 47 shots (Sorokina, back in the Agidel net for this one, got the shutout by making nine saves). Once again, Agidel broke the game open in the second, and cruised from there to a 7-0 victory. And like in the first match, the scoring was spread around, as seven different players recorded goals. In fact, four players (Sosina, Shibanova, Yelizaveta Rodnova, and Yekaterina Ananyina) led on the points chart with a goal and an assist each. That kind of depth explains a lot about why Agidel are in first place in the standings.
It has been a frustrating season for Arktik-Universitet Ukhta, without a win in their ten 2017-18 games coming into Monday’s and Tuesday’s contests against Dynamo in St. Petersburg. That frustration would continue. In Game 1, Diana Kanayeva gave Dynamo an early lead, but Arktik-Universitet pressed hard and equalized through Oxana Mitrofanova mid-way through the second period. However, the tie was of short duration, and Svetlana Tkachenko restored Dynamo’s lead just a couple of minutes later. From there, Dynamo goalie Valeriya Merkusheva took over the story; though Arktik-Universitet outshot their opponents by 29-20, they could manage only that single goal against Merkusheva, and the game ended 2-1 in Dynamo’s favour.
The second game would be even more heart-breaking for the Ukhta team. This time, it was Arktik-Universitet getting out to the early lead, as Olga Shirokova put them up 1-0 in the first. The visitors were unable to increase their lead against Merkusheva in the Dynamo net, but nor could the home side get a puck past Anastasiya Gorshunova, tending the cage for Arktik-Universitet. As the third period neared its end, it looked like Arktik-Universitet might have that first win… but with just a minute left, recent Olympian Yekaterina Smolina dented their hopes by tying the game. Then, 37 seconds into overtime, Arktik-Universitet’s disappoinment was complete when Czech forward Aneta Tejralová scored to win the game for Dynamo. It was an important sweep of the pair of games for Dynamo, but we must also concede that Arktik-Universitet, who once again outshot the St. Petersbur side in the second match (24-19), likely deserved better.
The final pair of games to cover this week occurred in Krasnoyarsk, where Biryusa welcomed visiting SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. They home team was a force in the first game, but ran into a remarkable performance from SKIF goalie, and recent alumna of the Russian U18 national team, Diana Farkhutdinova. How remarkable? Well, Biryusa outshot SKIF 32-18, but failed to get even a single puck past Farkhutdinova. Three goals in the middle period was all the scoring this game would see, and all three tallies came from SKIF players: Oxana Bratishcheva, Polina Luchnikova, and finally Yelena Provorova. 3-0 the final in SKIF’s favour.
Valeriya Tarakanova took over for Farkhutdinova in the second game between the two teams, and she would do nearly as well in the end. Once again, SKIF took a second-period lead: 2-0, with the goals scored by Anastasiya Pestova and by Bratishcheva. But then SKIF stumbled a bit, and Biryusa’s Alexandra Budanova and Sofiya Sychyova both scored in the final three minutes of the middle period to level the accounts heading into the third. Here, the visitors got things back on track. Hungarian forward Franciska Kiss-Simon put SKIF back in front 3-2, and that goal would stand up as the winner. Landish Falyakhova scored an insurance marker late in what ended as a 4-2 SKIF victory. Once again, Biryusa had outshot their opponents (32-23 this time), and they can consider themselves quite unlucky to have come out of the pair of games with nothing to show for them in the standings.
And so the Women’s Hockey League table now looks like this:
The top four at season’s end will make the league’s first-ever playoffs, and Agidel, SKIF, and Tornado are looking pretty good to occupy three of those spots (note that Tornado have a couple of games in hand on most other teams). However, there is a good battle shaping up between Dynamo and Biryusa for the final post-season berth. Fans may wish to note the dates of March 21st and 22nd, when those two teams will meet in St. Petersburg; fourth place may very well be decided by those games.
As for the scoring race, it very much belongs to Agidel’s Olga Sosina at the moment. Her line of 16 gp, 14-23-37 has her 11 points clear of her club-mate, Slovakian forward Nicol Čupková, and 15 ahead of another Agidel player in Yekaterina Lebedeva. Last year’s scoring champion, Tornado’s Anna Shokhina, is also on 22 points right now and has played two fewer games, but that is still a lot of ground to make up. The goals race is a little closer: Sosina leads with 14, Lebedeva sits second with 12, and in third is Biryusa’s Valeriya Pavlova on 11.
The Women’s Hockey League goes back to work this coming weekend with three more pairs of games: Agidel will host Dynamo, Biryusa visit SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, and Arktik-Universitet are at home to Tornado.
Turning from the professional game to the amateur ranks! This past weekend featured the second and final national championship qualifying tournament for the League of Women’s Hockey Under-18 division (the “Olympic Hopes Division”), in Kurganovo, near Yekaterinburg. Unfortunately, it began with some controversy involving the Pantery-2 St. Peterburg team. That squad had finished the first stage with a 3-0 record, only to have all their wins annulled due to violations of the league rules (I am not sure exactly what the violation entailed in this case). And though Pantery-2 attended this weekend’s tournament in Kurganovo, they were once again in breach of regulations, this time for bringing too small a roster. So though they played and “won” all three games on their schedule, the St. Petersburg side once again officially forfeited three times to finish qualifying with an 0-6 record. Comments from league officials suggest that the team will not be invited back next year, although there are hopes that the players, who are blameless in the matter, will take part with other teams.
But controversy aside, the tournament was tremendous. In Group A, Severyanka-2 Cherepovets, Orsa-2 Yaroslavl, Forvard-2 Kazan, and Grizli-3 Novosibirsk made up the field, and while Grizli-3 would finish winless, the other squads were highly competitive. Orsa-2 defeated Forvard-2, who themselves defeated Severyanka-2. And so the tournament’s final game, between Severyanka-2 and Orsa-2, was for all the marbles. A second-period goal by Severyanka’s Alexandra Gandzyuk, and tremendous play by goalie Arina Konina, made the difference in a 1-0 victory for the Cherepovets team. Severyanka, who won all three games at the first stage of qualifying, finished top of the table, while Forvard-2 also qualified for the national championship tournament by coming second. Just missing out were Orsa-2, while Grizli-3 brought up the rear in fourth.
In Group B, there was also significant drama. Pantery-2’s forfeits meant that the effective group leader coming in was Pervomaiskie Lvitsy Korkino, with a 3-0 record from the first stage. But this tournament would be different; though the Korkino side picked up the automatic win over Pantery-2, they were beaten by both Pantery Tatarsk and Rubin Tyumen. The Tatarsk team also beat Rubin, so when all was said and done, Pervomaiskie Lvitsy, Pantery Tatarsk, and Rubin all had identical 4-2 records and eight points for the entire qualifying campaign. On goal difference, it is Pervomaiskie Lvitsy and Rubin Tyumen that advance to the national championship tournament, although Pantery Tatarsk can take comfort from the improvement they showed over their performance in the first qualifying round.
Next up for the amateur U18s will be that national championship tournament; I will post dates and times when I have them. For the qualifying competition as a whole, it was Ulyana Balashova of Severyanka Cherepovets who took home the scoring title; she led in both goals and points with a line of 9-4-13 in six games.
A final note, from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Calgary Inferno forward Iya Gavrilova, the only Russian player in the league, will wrap the regular season with her team-mates this coming Saturday and Sunday with a pair of games against Les Canadiennes de Montreal. The Inferno currently sit third, with a playoff spot clinched, but could move up as high as first if results this weekend go their way. As for Gavrilova, she has scored 6-18-24 in 26 CWHL games this season, putting her fourth in the league in assists and 13th in the points race.
That’s it for this week! Next week, recaps of the Women’s Hockey League action that will take place in the meantime, a look at Gavrilova and the Inferno’s upcoming playoffs, and anything else that might crop up. Thank you for reading!