Today the Connecticut Whale have taken a big bite out of the question mark that has been lingering around the team’s goaltending depth for the upcoming 2018-19 season. Connecticut has signed Russian national team member Maria Sorokina, 23, to share the goal crease with fellow rookie Sam Walther.
Sorokina may be young, but she has a wealth of experience playing hockey at an elite level. She’s played several seasons in the Zhenskaya Hockey League with Dynamo St. Petersburg, and, more recently, with Agidel Ufa. Sorokina has also represented Russia at three Women’s World Championships, and helped her country secure a bronze medal in 2016.
Given her accolades and experience playing in elite tournaments against North American talent, it was something of a surprise when Sorokina did not play for the Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Olympics. But her omission from that roster doesn’t make her any less exceptional. The NWHL’s Deputy Commissioner, Hayley Moore, considers Sorokina to be one of the best young goaltenders in the world. And Moore would know, she’s watched Sorokina play against NWHL teams in preseason matches.
“The first time I came here, as part of the Russian National Team to play matches against the NWHL clubs, I decided for myself that I should definitely try to get into this league,” Sorokina shared in the league’s press release. “I had very pleasant impressions, including the community where the Whale play. I’m ready to fight for the team and all the people involved in it to win the Isobel Cup.”
Sorokina is the first Russian goaltender to join the league. She’s also the first Russian to sign an NWHL contract since the league’s inaugural season. Interestingly enough, Sorokina will be the third Russian player to play for Connecticut in the history of the league — icons Katia Smolentseva and Katia Pashkevich came before her. As things currently stand, she’s the only goaltender who was born outside of North America in the NWHL.
“I would like to thank the management and coaching staff of the Whale for their trust,” Sorokina shared. “I’m very hopeful for a successful collaboration this season! My decision to play in the NWHL came after a lot of careful consideration. I believe that the time we spend together will benefit both sides. I will do everything in my power to help the team achieve success, and I will have the opportunity to develop my skills, thanks to my coaches and new teammates.”
Sorokina joins a Whale team that is quickly becoming defined by its international talent — including Randi Griffin from the Korean national team, Michelle Lowenhielm from the Swedish national team, and Katerina Mrazova from the Czech national team — and it’s strong ties to NCAA D-III hockey.
With a goaltender of Sorokina’s caliber between the pipes, the Whale could surprise a lot of teams this year. If she can play like she has in the Zhenskaya Hockey League and for Team Russia, she will be able to give Connecticut a fighting chance every night.