KRS Vanke Rays 6 MSMO 7.62 Moscow Region 1 (4-0, 1-0, 1-1)
A hat-trick for Alexandra Vafina – her first for the Rays – moved the Lady Dragons level on points with top-of-the-table Agidel thanks to a convincing win at home to MSMO 7.62. The League’s basement team was no match for our girls, falling two goals behind in the first couple of minutes and offering little resistance in the face of an impressive KRS display.
Sunday’s victory lifts us to 43 points. That’s level with Agidel, inactive today, and SKIF, which won comfortably at Tornado. Agidel holds top spot by virtue of winning more games in regulation (14 against 13 for KRS), but the Ufa team has played three games more than us.
The visit of MSMO 7.62 offered an opportunity to give young goalie Milena Tretyak some ice time. The 20-year-old last played on Nov. 8 in an 11-1 victory over SKSO. Elsewhere, though, the same players that edged an overtime win over SKIF last time out were back on duty. That’s evidence of the depth of competition in this league; there’s no scope to take even the weakest performer for granted, since any team here can punish complacency.
That respect for the opposition was carried into the opening minutes of play. The Rays hustled and harried from the first puck drop and got their reward after 92 seconds. Alena Mills played in a pass from the point and Vafina emerged from beyond the goal line to flip a backhander past Sofia Larova for the opening score. Almost immediately, KRS earned a power play and Vafina grabbed her second of the game, this time aided by a lovely no-look pass from Leah Lum that sowed panic on the visitor’s crease.
A trademark Megan Bozek thunderbolt extended the lead midway through the first period, then came a special moment when Shuang Zhang – known as Nikki to her team-mates – scored her first WHL goal. The 33-year-old defenseman was inspired to return to the ice last season when the Vanke Rays joined the Russian championship. Her experience at the highest level – which includes playing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver – has been invaluable on this roster and she played an important role on the blue line in last season’s title win. Today, for the first time, we saw her on the scoresheet after a long spell of pressure ended with the puck played back to the point for Zhang to glide into a central position and smash home an unstoppable shot. The team’s reaction showed how much it meant to everyone – Nikki is a hugely popular figure in this locker room.
Effectively, the game was already done. 7.62 was battling hard, replacement goalie Yuliya Volkova was doing all she could, but there was little to suggest a beleaguered visiting offense could reawaken this contest. Early in the second period Vafina completed her hat-trick with another power play goal but subsequently the scoring slowed. KRS added one more, a shorthanded effort late in the third period from Mills but was unable to prevent a late consolation for the visitor when Anastasia Petrova converted Maria Goryacheva’s feed at the back door. That was a frustrating blow for Tretyak, robbed of a first shut-out in Vanke Rays’ colors less than two minutes before the hooter.