Women’s Hockey Top 25 Under 25 | Number 10 - Ludmila Belyakova
Former Riveter looks to keep scoring for her home country
Ludmila Belyakova’s prowess with the puck in the offensive zone has earned her a cult following among NWHL fans, but she’s a much bigger star in her home country. And for good reason. At just 23-years-old, Belyakova has represented Russia at the Women’s World Championships five times.
Considered one of the best Russian women’s hockey players in the world, Belyakova just might be the best pure goal scorer in women’s hockey. Her quick hands and even quicker release have sent pucks past sprawling goaltenders across the globe. And although she is still in her early-twenties, Belyakova has been a player to watch for almost a decade.
Belyakova was invited to Russia’s women’s national team when she was just 15 years old. And it didn’t take long after that for Belyakova to prove that she was something or a prodigy.
Belyakova played in her first U-18 Women’s Worlds in 2010. She was one of just four Russian forwards to score a goal in the tournament despite her youth. But Russia faltered in the tournament and lost the relegation series to Czech Republic. Belyakova and her fellow young Russians were relegated to Division I.
The next year Belyakova was a force of nature at the U-18 Worlds. She scored 11 goals and picked up five assists in five games. Belyakova was named the Best Player of the tournament in addition to being the top scorer of the tournament. She scored one-fourth of Russia’s goals in the tournament in front of her countrymen in Dmitrov, Russia.
In 2011-12 Belyakova played for both the U-18 team and Russia’s senior women’s club at the Worlds. The next year she scored her first goal at the Women’s Worlds and helped Russia claim bronze. The Russian Hockey Federation named Belyakova the team’s first alternate for Sochi the next year.
In the 2014-15 season Belyakova made her debut as a professional playing for HK Tornado in the RWHL. She had 26 goals and 15 assists in 24 games playing for a powerhouse Tornado team. Belyakova’s performance in her rookie RWHL season was convincing evidence that at 20-years-old she was already one of the best Russian players in the world.
But instead of staying in Russia and playing for her hometown team, Belyakova chose to embrace a unique challenge the next season. She was the first Russian player to sign an NWHL contract.
In her only NWHL season Belyakova scored five goals and picked up five assists in 15 games playing for a Riveters team that was frequently out-gunned and outmatched. Her quickness, creativity and passion made her a fan favorite in Brooklyn. She was the youngest player on the team but managed to be just one of four Riveters to score a playoff goal in the NWHL’s inaugural season.
In that same season Belyakova won her second bronze medal with Russia at the 2016 Women’s Worlds, but was held scoreless in five games.
After the Riveters chose not to offer her a contract, Belyakova returned to Russia for the 2016-17 season. She scored a jaw-dropping 34 goals in 35 games for Tornado. Belyakova also picked up 19 assists in her second season in the RWHL despite not playing on Tornado’s stacked top line, proving yet again that she has no problems creating scoring chances on her own.
Belyakova finished second in the RWHL in goals last season and was fourth in the league in points. Her goal-scoring helped Tornado win the league championship, her first as a professional.
Belyakova turned 23 on August 12th, so she still has plenty of hockey to play on both the professional and international stage.
Earlier this summer it was rumored that the CWHL and Kunlun Red Star came calling for the young sniper. But for the time being it appears that Belyakova is staying in the RWHL with Tornado and preparing for the 2018 Olympics.
Belyakova was Russia’s first alternate at the 2014 Sochi Games, so PyeongChang will be her first time on Olympic ice. After stumbling at the 2017 Women’s Worlds in Plymouth Michigan, Russia is looking to capture a medal. Belyakova’s scoring touch could be the key to Russia’s success in Pyeongchang.
Is this Ranking too High or too Low?
Belyakova absolutely belongs on this list, but is she the tenth best player in women’s hockey under the age of 25? That is up for debate. However there’s no debate that Belyakova is one of the most exciting players to watch in hockey. When she has the puck conversations stop and butts move closer to the edges of seats.
Still, it is curious that Belyakova is the only Russian forward to appear on The Ice Garden’s Top 25 Under 25 list, especially because Yelena Dergachyova and Anna Shokina were both omitted. Dergachyova and Shokina are both younger than the former Riveter and both finished with more points last season in the RWHL. So one can safely assume that Belyakova’s popularity in the States played a large part in her landing at the 10 spot on our list.
Still, it’s worth pointing out that Belyakova led Team Russia in goals and points during the team’s exhibition series against NWHL teams last October. She scored five goals in three games against the Riveters and the Whale. Belyakova also was one of five Russian players to score a goal at the 2017 Worlds and shared the team lead in shots on goal. It also doesn’t hurt that she was nearly a goal per game player last season in the RWHL playing primarily on Tornado’s second line.
Belyakova knows how to put on a show and she has the talent to make it happen. She’s one of the best pure goal scorers in hockey.