The list of Russian women’s ice hockey champions since the first championship was contested in 1996 has been consistent, if nothing else.
Going into this season, only once did a team outside of SKIF (first in Moscow and later in Nizhny Novgorod) and Tornado Dmitrov claim the title: Spartak-Mercury Yekaterinburg, now defunct, in 2000.
But that duopoly’s reign of dominance is finally over.
Agidel Ufa crushed Tornado 4-1 in Dmitrov in Game 3 of the Women’s Hockey League final Monday, claiming the club’s first title since its inception in 2010.
It was the crowning jewel in a dominant run for Agidel. In the semifinals, they faced 12-time champions SKIF. This series showed off the team’s offensive capabilities: they scored twelve goals in the two game sweep, taking a road Game 1 by a 6-4 scoreline before cruising at home to a 6-1 Game 2 win.
The final against Tornado was expected to be an exciting series. Agidel had won the regular season title, but Tornado had won 3 titles in a row and 5 of the last 6.
Instead, it proved to be an exclamation mark on Agidel’s dream season.
Game 1 was a goalie duel, with both Agidel’s Anna Prugova and Tornado’s Nadezhda Alexandrova playing extremely well and stopping over 30 shots each. But only Prugova saw goal support. Star forward Olga Sosina opened the scoring midway through the first with a deflection and Alexandra Kapustina added an insurance marker early in the second for a 2-0 final.
Game 2 saw Agidel open up a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Inna Dyubanok, Elizabeta Rodnova, and Alexandra Vafina. But Tornado isn’t a team that goes away, scoring two goals ninety seconds apart in the third to cut the lead to one. They were unable to find an equalizer, though, and the game finished 3-2, with Agidel taking a 2-0 series lead back to Moscow Oblast. Tornado needed to defend home ice to extend the series.
They did not.
Sosina scored twice while Vafina and Alyona Zubkova added a goal each as Agidel cruised in Game 3 on the road. Only an Anna Shokhina goal with twelve seconds to go prevented them from a second shutout and Agidel poured onto the ice to celebrate a 4-1 win in the game, a 3-1 win in the series, and a championship.
You want your best players to show up in the big moments and Agidel definitely got those. Sosina racked up 11 points in the playoffs, by far the top mark (three of her Agidel teammates tied for second with 6). This included a pair of goals in the decisive Game 3 on the road. She may have lost the scoring title in the regular season, but she clearly channeled that into a dominant playoff and showed that she is the most well-rounded player in Russia.
But the real story was goalie Prugova’s stupendous performance in the final. Against a team that scored 115 goals in 24 regular season games, the Khabarovsk-born goaltender was a brick wall, stopping 82 of 85 shots against in the series, a .967 save percentage. She shut out Tornado in Game 1 and was twelve seconds away from a second shutout in the title clincher.
Congratulations to HC Agidel and the city of Ufa on their championship and a tip of the cap to HC Tornado on a hard-fought final.