Agidel Ufa 0 KRS Vanke Rays 5 (0-1, 0-2, 0-2)
Sunday’s showdown in Ufa offered the Vanke Rays their first chance to secure top spot in the regular season table. Agidel, the only team able to catch our girls, needed to win both of these back-to-back games to remain in contention; the Dragons could wrap it all up with victory today.
But there was more on the line, with the Rays seeking to extend a 13-game winning streak and add to its WHL record for successive victories. The last time Brian Idalski’s team suffered defeat in a league game was on Jan. 10, when Agidel battled to a 5-4 verdict in Mytishchi. The following day, we avenged that loss with a 4-3 success of our own and since then, the team’s progress has been flawless.
There was important team news from both sides ahead of the game. KRS welcomed back Alexandra Vafina, who missed the previous game after picking up a minor injury in last week’s 5-0 win at SKSO. However, Agidel would have to do without leading scorer Olga Sosina, absent from today’s roster after suffering an injury against Tornado. That, in turn, handed the initiative to our own Alex Carpenter in the WHL scoring race: going into the game, the two were separated by a single point, with Sosina on 49 (17+32) to Carpenter’s 48 (23+25).
It was important to set the tone from the start and within two minutes, the Rays had the lead. Not for the first time this season, Megan Bozek’s thundering slapshot was too much for the opposing goalie and Rachel Llanes was on hand to put away the rebound.
For much of the first period, it was one-way traffic. Only home goalie Anna Prugova stood between Agidel and a heavy loss. She stood firm when the Lady Dragons had the first power play of the game and continued to come up with the answers as the visiting offense carved out chance after chance.
At the other end, Kimberly Newell had rather less work to do, but was still alert to the danger when Agidel got forward. It was only in the last five or six minutes of the frame that the home team began to pose a threat, but Newell was unfazed by Veronika Kerzhakova’s breakaway and stoned Ilona Markova when she found a gap and rushed into the danger zone.
The game opened up, the action flowed from end-to-end and the spectacle was a fine advert for the Women’s Hockey League. But, at the intermission, the Rays still held a 1-0 lead.
The second period began with a flurry of penalties. Briefly, Red Star was on the power play, but soon the Dragons were defending a 3-on-4 situation. For 33 seconds, Agidel even had a double power play, but our defense stuck to its task well and even fashioned a breakaway chance for Costales when back to 4-on-5. The shot was forced wide by a recovering opponent, but the rush ate up valuable seconds on the PK.
Once back at full strength, Red Star again began to dictate the play. Kaitlyn Tse flashed a shot narrowly wide after good work from Vafina, and a home error behind the net almost led to a goal. However, the lead was only extended after Agidel came alarmingly close to tying the scores. Angelina Makhmutova’s point shot was redirected by Darya Beloglazova and crashed against the post. Provoked into life, the Dragons flew to the other end of the ice and made it 2-0 when Hannah Miller set up Carpenter for yet another goal.
Miller then added a third, quickly converting another power play to leave the home team with a mountain to climb. Agidel tried to find an immediate response in the last couple of minutes of the second period but a couple of efforts from Markova merely lifted morale a little without reducing the deficit on the scoreboard.
Five minutes into the third period, Llanes scored her second of the game to stretch the lead to 4-0. This time it was a breakaway goal, with Miller charging down the left and slinging a pass into the danger zone where Llanes got in front of her opponent to score. There were signs that Agidel’s overstretched defense was beginning to tire and there was certainly evidence of that when Carpenter was allowed far too much space as she got her second of the game to make it 5-0. That moves Alex to 50 points for the season – with three games left to improve on her tally of 53 last year. It was also our top scorer’s 49th career WHL goal and it put her out in front in this season’s scoring race.
Carpenter’s goal completed the scoring, while Newell secured another shut-out with 23 saves. The result brought an emphatic end to the race for the regular season title. However, before the playoffs get underway, the Lady Dragons have a second game to play here before moving on to Krasnoyarsk to wrap up the regular season with two games against playoff chasing Biryusa.