The Russian women’s hockey team enters this year’s World Championship with a new coach, but the same goal: earn a spot on the podium.
Last year’s head coach, Mikhail Chekanov, changed roles upon his contract expiring, becoming an advisor to the president of the Russian Hockey Federation for women’s hockey.
His replacement, Alexei Chistyakov, has plenty of experience, having won the last two seasons of the Women’s Hockey League with Tornado Moscow Oblast and earning a gold medal at this year’s Universiade in Kazakhstan. The Yaroslavl native has also spent the last few years as an assistant with the Russian U18 squad.
Now, let’s take a look at the players Chistyakov will be coaching over the next week.
The question in goal is very interesting. Three goalies were named to the team: Tornado Moscow Region’s Nadezhda Alexandrova, Nadezhda Morozova of Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, and Maria Sorokina from Dynamo St. Petersburg. Based on the numbers, Sorokina was the best goalie in the Russian women’s league this year, ranking first in the league with a 1.58 goals against average, second in save percentage with .926, and tied for first with Morozova with seven shutouts. But Morozova got most of the minutes at last year’s World Championships, including a 32-save shutout of Finland in the bronze medal game.
On top of that, Chistyakov is familiar with Alexandrova, as she plays for Chistyakov’s Tornado squad that won the league this year. It’ll be interesting to see who Chistyakov elects to put in goal.
Drastic changes on defense for Team Russia this year as Maria Batalova, Anastasia Chistyakova, Liana Ganeyeva, and Yekaterina Lobov make their World Championship debuts, while Yekaterina Nikolayeva and veteran Alexandra Kapustina do not return from last season’s squad. Besides the four debutantes, the remaining players all finished in the top five in the domestic league in scoring.
It’s a very young group, with five players aged 20 or younger, but there’s plenty of talent. Nina Pirogova led the domestic league in points by a defender by a margin of nine points as an 18-year-old, while Ganeyeva, wearing the captain’s “C” for Arktik-Universitet, posted 19 points and stayed a positive plus-minus despite playing on the second-worst team in the league. There is experience, however, in the form of Anna Shchukina (eight World Championship and Olympic appearances) and Angelina Goncharenko (5), and head coach Chistyakov will turn to them to help mentor the youngsters navigating the senior level for the first time.
Four players from last year’s outfit (Tatyana Burina, Yekaterina Smolina, Yelena Silina, and Valeriya Pavlova) don’t make this year’s squad, while three players (Lidia Malyavko, Anna Shokhina, and Yevgenia Dyupina) who were absent in Kamloops join the team in Plymouth.
Chistyakov has gone for experience up front, with only one World Championship rookie, coming in the form of Malyavko. The 22-year-old had huge skates to fill at Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, as their star forward Valeriya Pavlova missed the season on maternity leave. Malyavko stood up to the task, posting 37 points this season, up from 14 the season before.
The highlight of this team, however, is the trio of Yelena Dergachyova, Alevtina Shtaryova, and Anna Shokhina. The three combined for over a third of Tornado’s goals this season, and that was with Shtaryova missing a decent chunk of time with injury.
One player to keep an eye on for the future is Fanuza Kadirova. The Kukmor native posted 47 points for Arktik-Universitet this season, ninth in the Russian league, at the ripe young age of 18. That was up from 37 as a 17-year-old, and the sky seems to be the limit for the former captain of the U18 Sbornaya.
Russia kicks off their World Championship on Friday against Finland.