KRS Vanke Rays 3 Team Russia 4 SO (0-1, 2-1, 1-1, 0-0, 0-1)
For the second time in two days, the KRS Vanke Rays took on Russia’s national team – and once again it was a close encounter. After Friday’s game was settled by a single goal, this one went to a shoot-out before the Red Machine edged the verdict.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Lady Dragons recovered from 0-2 midway through the game to tie the scores before the second intermission. Leah Lum and Minttu Tuominen got the goals to haul us level, with Alena Mills collecting two assists. At the start of the third, Maria Pushkar’s individual effort put the Rays in front for the first time. For a long time, that looked like the winner – and revenge for yesterday’s loss. Instead, though, Nina Pirogova struck 33 seconds before the hooter, taking us to overtime and ultimately to that shoot-out. Landysh Falyakova struck the winning goal for Russia to wrap up two days of entertaining and productive hockey.
For many of our players, this was an important opportunity to get a taste of international hockey once again. After the cancellation of last season’s IIHF World Championships at all levels, there has been little chance to see national teams in action for almost 12 months. And many of our girls have their sights firmly on next April’s World Championship in Nova Scotia. China won’t be involved, and the international tournament for our women, due to be played in Beijing as an Olympic trial event, is cancelled due to the coronavirus situation.
At the top level, though, several of our players are looking to represent their countries in Canada in the spring. Team USA’s last international engagement, the Rivalry Series against Canada, saw Alex Carpenter and Megan Bozek in action for the Stars and Stripes. Now they are both looking forward to a chance at the Worlds.
“For Megan and I, playing against Russia is also a bit of a try-out ahead of the World Championship,” she told the WHL website. “We’re really looking forward to that tournament – and we were impressed with the Russian team here. It will be interesting to come up against them again in Canada.”
Carpenter and Bozek are by no means the only Lady Dragons hoping for an international call-up in April. Alexandra Vafina played against the Vanke Rays for Team Russia this weekend and is in line for her 10th appearance at the Worlds. Czech forward Alena Mills has even more experience, playing for her country 12 teams in IIHF competition. She has captained the Czechs each year 2011, leading the team from Division II to the Elite Pool in the women’s game. Meanwhile, Team Finland will also be watching our girls closely: Tuominnen has represented the Leijonat at three Olympics and seven Worlds, while goalie Noora Raty has established a reputation as possibly the best in the world with nominations to the All-Star team at the 2018 Olympics and 2019 World Championships.
Tuominnen also had an eye on how playing against Russia might help the Finns, who became the first European nation to reach a World Championship final in 2019. “I think this game was good for everyone, including my national team,” she said. “I’m sure the coaches from Team Finland saw the game and will analyse the way Russia plays ahead of the important international tournaments in the spring.”
But before any international action, we’re focusing on defending our Russian WHL title – and according to team captain Carpenter, the games against Team Russia can only help the Vanke Rays to gel at the business end of the season.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks without any games, so these were good tests before the concluding games of the season,” she said. “We had a chance to work on our systems against strong opposition, get a look at our special teams and get ready for a difficult stretch in the season. We have 10 WHL games in a short space of time, then the playoffs.
“The results [against Russia] aren’t so important, but the games were very even.”