A bronze medal in 2015 was Russia’s first and only medal in the World Women’s U18 Championships. This year Team Russia, with its new head coach, is hoping to become the fifth nation to claim at least two medals in the U18 WWC. And, on paper, that goal appears to be well within their reach.
Despite Russia’s history of hockey and immense size and population the women’s game is still very much behind where it is in both Canada and the United States. According to the IIHF’s data Russia, which has thirteen times the population of the Czech Republic, has fewer female players than the host nation Czech Republic- by a margin of about 800 athletes.
But the growing popularity of the RWHL, the 2014 Olympic Games at Sochi and stars from Russia’s Women’s National Team have helped to grow the game in recent years. In fact, several of the young women that will play on Russia’s U18 team this weekend skated in the RWHL this year.
But even with players from the RWHL in the mix there is no doubt that the Russians will have their work cut out for them in this tournament.
Russia’s recent success has landed them in Group A with USA, Canada, and Sweden. With the powerhouse Americans and Canadians in the mix Russia will almost certainly not be getting a first-round bye in the playoff stage. They will likely have to lock horns with either the first or second-best team from Group B.
And that means that the Russian women will have tired legs when they (in all likelihood) meet Canada or USA in the semifinals.
It’s a tough test for Russia and new head coach Yevgeni Bobariko. But he brings plenty of valuable experience to the table. And he has some talented young women on his bench.
Bobariko has coaching experience in Russia’s second-tier men’s league, as an assistant coach of the senior women’s team, and as the head coach of SKIF Nizhni Novgorod of the RWHL.
This year Russia will miss the presence of the diminutive and dynamic Fanuza Kadirova. Kadirova was a standout in last year’s U18 Championships and led Russia in scoring by a wide margin. But even without Kadirova Russia still has plenty of talent on the ice.
In November Russia had a huge victory over Sweden to win the 4 Nations Tournament. As the host nation they out-classed Finland and Germany with 4-0 wins and then bested Sweden 2-1 thanks to some stellar play by goaltender Valeria Merkusheva.
Tatyana Shatalova, who has five goals in the RWHL this year with Biryusa, led Russia in scoring in Germany. She had two goals and three assists in the tournament. And Alyona Starovoitova, a promising sniper, scored three goals at 4 Nations. She was the most prolific goal scorer of the tournament.
Another key player for the Russians is Daria Beloglazova. She had six points (three goals, three assists) in last year’s U18 WWC, which was tied with Kadirova for the team lead. She is a player that opposing defenders can’t afford to lose track of.
Beloglazova, Shatalova, Starovoitova, Merkusheva and the Russian skaters with RWHL experience will be the key to the team’s success in the Czech Republic. All of that talent and experience gives Russia a real chance to claim their first medal in the U18 WWC since 2015.
In the eyes of many Russia is simply battling for bronze with Sweden, the Czech Republic and Finland. But Russia has a special team playing in the tournament this year and USA and Canada cannot afford to take them lightly.
Russia’s first game of the tournament will be played in Zlin against the defending Champion United States team on Saturday, January 7th. After that they will meet Canada on the 8th and Sweden on the 10th.