Iya Gavrilova ready to start new chapter in CWHL

Reunited with CIS teammate Hayley Wickenheiser, Gavrilova hopes to find her place on the Inferno.

There is no one better to scrutinize how the CWHL's Calgary Inferno will do this year than Iya Gavrilova.

Crunching stats and constant evaluation come second nature to her as she splits time in Calgary working for a paycheck as a cost-analyst and for ice time as a rookie with the Clarkson Cup champion Inferno.

"It has crossed my mind that I would like to win a Clarkson Cup. I mean, that is why we are here," said Gavrilova, who graduated from the University of Calgary last year where she played for the Dinos. "This is a great team and I believe they can go for it again."

The excitement in her voice to get into her first CWHL game is palpable- Gavrilova didn’t suit up for the Calgary Inferno’s first two games, both wins. However, her analytic mind still has its doubts. On a roster that includes 14 players out of 26 that were invited to the Canadian National Women's Team Fall Festival (an evaluation camp for upcoming international tournaments such as the 4 Nations Cup Nov. 1 to 5 in Finland) it still hasn't hit Gavrilova where she fits in. This is despite having a successful career with the Dinos, where she lined up with Inferno teammate Hayley Wickenheiser, won a CIS championship and was named the top female hockey player in the CIS in 2015.

"I don't know, we will see I guess. There is a lot of good players there so it is an honor to be a part of the Inferno," said Gavrilova. "I honestly don't care who I line up with. Everyone is so good that it doesn't matter. I just hope I can keep up with them."

A snapshot of her background would lead anyone to believe she will, even if Gavrilova doesn't just yet. After all, she does have three Olympics (2006, 2010 and 2014) under her skates with the Russian national team. She helped them win a gold medal at the 2015 World University Games (beating Canada) and a bronze at the 2016 IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship — just the third time in that tournament's history that Russia has won a medal. The 29-year-old, who has established herself as an elite forward in women's hockey, has come a long way since she landed in North America barely speaking English in 2008.

Gavrilova played in the NCAA for the University of Minnesota-Duluth under the guidance of Shannon Miller. After one season, where the Bulldogs won the NCAA championship, Gavrilova lost her eligibility. Miller then introduced her to former Canadian Olympian Danielle Goyette, head coach for the U of C Dinos.

"Moving from Russia to America was a life-changer for me," said Gavrilova. "The approach to the game is so different here. I learned so much from Shannon, and then Danielle has helped me improve as a player, improve my skills and teaching me to play both sides of the ice. I don't know where I would be without those two."

Gavrilova said she is still evaluating her own performance as the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics inch closer.

"I am taking it year by year now. I'm getting old, too," she said with a chuckle. "This league will be all new to me so I will see how it goes and if I do well I will continue on with the national program."

The ever-so-cautious Gavrilova said she will analyze her play after Christmas, and of course wait to see if she is invited, to determine if she will suit up for Russia at the 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship in April.