Women’s Hockey Update: July 17th, 2018
As the new season nears (indications are that the Women’s Hockey League season will begin on September 9th), the pace of news in Russian women’s hockey is also picking up. And there have been some heavy tidings in the first part of July, including: a Women’s Hockey League team on the move, an unpleasant situation at the league’s defending champions, some players coming and going, and a first look at some of the prospective Russian national-teamers in 2018-19. Read on!
There was some very big news today from the Women’s Hockey League: the Arktik-Universitet Ukhta club has announced that it will be relocating. According to Nikolai Tskhadaya, Rector of Ukhta State Technical University (the “Arctic University” of the team’s name), the team will begin the 2018-19 season in its traditional Ukhta home, but will move, permanently, to St. Petersburg in November. There, the team will take on the name SK Gorny (“Mining”) St. Petersburg, which suggests a possible affiliation with St. Petersburg State Mining University. From the sounds of things, Tskhadaya will continue to have a role with the club, which may also indicate the maintenance of a connection with USTU. We await further details.
Arktik-Universitet’s departure from Ukhta is a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, it was a wonderful thing to have a professional women’s hockey team in a small city (Ukhta’s population is about 100,000) in the far-northern Komi Republic, and the relocation will bring an end to that. The history of women’s hockey in Ukhta is an interesting one, as previously discussed here and here, and it is thoroughly to be hoped that the work done on the women’s game in the city and the Republic will continue. In 2016-17, the city iced a team, ZhHK Nikolai Liu (named after the founder of the first women’s team in Ukhta), in the amateur League of Women’s Hockey; they did not compete on the circuit in 2017-18, but it would be great to see them back in the absence of Arktik-Universitet.
On the other hand, being based in remote Ukhta created some fairly obvious logistical head-aches for the club. There was also some evidence in recent seasons that Arktik-Universitet’s location was making it difficult to attract the necessary talent, or at least enough of it, to be truly competitive in the league. Arktik-Universitet went 4-20 last season, and failed to record a win over any team except last-place SK Sverdlovsk Oblast. A move to the mouth of the Neva gives the team a much bigger base to draw on (for players, sponsorship, media attention, fan support, etc.), reduces travel problems, and — as the article linked above notes — creates a Women’s Hockey League derby game against city rivals Dynamo St. Petersburg. So while it a sad day in many ways, there are some things to like about the move.
Women’s Hockey League teams are heading to their pre-season training camps these days, and the Russian women’s national team is also getting its 2018-19 preparations underway; the nats held a conditioning camp on the Black Sea coast in Sochi from July 1st to 13th. The roster invited by coach Alexei Chistyakov was not the full one (no Olga Sosina, for one thing), but rather a mix of established national team regulars and some interesting new faces. Present in Sochi were:
- Valeriya Merkusheva (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
- Anna Prugova (Agidel Ufa)
- Mariya Sorokina (Agidel Ufa)
- Anastasiya Chistyakova (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
- Liana Ganeyeva (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta)
- Angelina Goncharenko (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Irina Kulagina (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Yekaterina Nikolayeva (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
- Alina Orlova (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta)
- Nina Pirogova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Anna Shibanova (Agidel Ufa)
- Darya Teryoshkina (U. of Maine)
- Darya Zubok (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Mariya Alexandrova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Darya Beloglazova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Yevgeniya Dyupina (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
- Fanuza Kadirova (Arktik-Universitet Ukhta)
- Diana Kanayeva (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
- Mariya Lobur (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Yelizaveta Rodnova (Agidel Ufa)
- Yekaterina Smolina (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
- Alyona Starovoitova (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Anna Shokhina (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Oxana Shupenko (Tornado Moscow Oblast)
- Alexandra Vafina (Agidel Ufa)
- Polina Yeliseyeva (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
There are a new names for the senior squad on that list: Kulagina, Orlova, Zubok, Lobur, and Rodnova are all recent graduates of the U18 program, and we have talked them here in the context of youth tournaments. Yeliseyeva has been at Dynamo for three seasons now, but at 21 is still hunting for her major-tournament national team debut (including youth tournaments). Teryoshkina got a look-see from the Russian U18 national team at its pre-Worlds camp a couple of seasons ago, although she did not make final squad. I am not 100% sure that she is returning to Maine for this upcoming season, but I have not heard otherwise.
And Shupenko is a newcomer to both the Women’s Hockey League and the national program. Now 19 (she will be 20 when the season starts), she spent most of her youth playing for boys’ teams in her home town of Safonovo (Smolensk Oblast), but also turned out this past season for Groza-1 St. Petersburg in the amateur national women’s championship (the League of Women’s Hockey). There Shupenko did very well indeed (9 gp, 5-16-21), and it was enough to catch the eye of Tornado and the national team (both of which, we should note, are coached by Alexei Chistyakov). We will see how the newcomers get on, and if they get a look once the tournaments start.
As mentioned above, Women’s Hockey League teams are preparing for the new season, so there are some news notes in terms of player movement, re-signings, and so on. We will start with some turmoil at the defending champions. Longtime Agidel Ufa defender Yekaterina Ananyina (a favourite here at the blog) has left the team, and on the way out she leveled a broadside at the Agidel brass, specifically General Manager Alexander Semak. Saying that he was “stuck in the USSR,” Ananyina in an open letter accused Semak of over-ruling the coaching staff and imposing a harsh training regimen over the last year, a program that was detrimental to the health of the players. She also accused the GM of having unilaterally reduced her salary, and stated that he had forbidden her to appear as a TV commentator (Ananyina did some work in 2016-17 on Bashkir Satellite Television broadcasts of KHL games involving Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Agidel’s parent club). The team responded by alleging that Ananyina had demanded a massive pay raise, and then been released at her own request when the club would not meet that demand.
So it is a sad and ugly situation for both team and player. For Agidel, they enter the new season’s preparations in a difficult frame of mind. And it is worth noting that Ananyina, an under-rated part of their defence group in the championship 2017-18 campaign, is not the only name missing from the team’s pre-season camp roster. Also gone, or at least missing, are longtime stalwarts like Alexandra Kapustina, Anna Shchukina, and Yekaterina Zakharova. There may be entirely legitimate reasons for that, of course, and those players may arrive at the team’s camp in due course. It is something of an ill-omened start to the new campaign, but on the bright side the team has already pulled off a massively important free-agent signing this summer.
As for Ananyina, she is reportedly practicing with her hometown team, SK Sverdlovsk Oblast, although there is no word yet on whether she has officially signed on with them. Ananyina was a bit overshadowed at Agidel by some of the big names there, but she is a reliable two-way defender (25 gp, 5-4-9, +18, last season), and if she does sign it will be a tremendous boost for SKSO as they look to finally break their seasons-long losing streak in 2018-19. If she does not sign with SKSO, she should get an offer from one of the other Women’s Hockey League teams, and I wish her all the best in her future career, wherever it takes her. (h/t to Denis Osipchuk)
Elsewhere in the Women’s Hockey League, Dynamo St. Petersburg have re-signed goalie Valeriya Merkusheva to a two-year contract extension. That’s a big deal; Merkusheva had the best sv% in the Women’s Hockey League last season, with a sparkling .952 over 22 games. The 18-year-old netminder gives Dynamo an instant chance to beat any opponent, and she should be a fixture both in the league and for the national team for a long time to come.
Dynamo have also announced the departure, and retirement, of forward Mariya Shepelinskaya. The 23-year-old, who played for Russia at the 2011-12 U18 Worlds, had one assist in 21 games last season.
And finally, a couple of Dynamo players will have new nameplates on their sweaters in 2018-19. Forwards Svetlana Tkachenko and Alena Polenská both got married this summer (congratulations to both players), and both will apparently take their married names as official. Tkachenko will suit up next season as Svetlana Prokopenko, while Czech national-teamer Polenská is now Alena Mills.
Mills, incidentally, gave an interesting interview to Czech news media in early July, talking about her experiences in the Russian league, and other matters as well. It’s worth a read! In that interview, she reports hearing that Kazakh team Tomiris Astana will not be joining the Women’s Hockey League next season, as had been under discussion. Sad news, if true, but we’ll talk more about that if and when it becomes official. (h/t to Tomáš Vorčák)
And one last note: Tornado Moscow Oblast have brought six new young players to their pre-season camp. Joining the defending silver medalists for 2018-19 will be: defenders Anna Savonina, Anastasiya Golovkina, and Kseniya Lebedeva, and forwards Mariya Pushkar, Anna Lopukhova, and Oxana Shupenko. Shupenko we discussed above, in the section on the senior national team’s pre-season camp. Savonina, Golovkina, Pushkar, and Lopukhova have all at least been on the radar for the U18 or U16 national teams (or both) in recent seasons. Savonina, in particular, already has two U18 Worlds on her resume and has not yet celebrated her 17th birthday. As for Lebedeva, she spent last season as the captain of the Atlant Moscow Oblast 2003 girls’ team, where she scored 10-9-19 in 14 games — very impressive, particularly for a defender. So, all names to keep an eye on this coming season.
Thank you for reading! Tomorrow, it is back to KHL previews.