Agidel Ufa 1 KRS Vanke Rays 4 (0-2, 0-0, 1-2)
Another day, another win. Monday brought back-to-back victories over Agidel as the Vanke Rays extended their league record winning streak to 15 games. Along the way, the Dragons extended their shut-out streak beyond four hours before finally allowing a goal in the third period. And all this against last season’s WHL runner-up and, historically, one of the strongest women’s teams in Europe.
Hence ‘The Big Red Star Machine’. Echoes of the all-conquering Soviet hockey team (and prior to that, the original Red Machine playing baseball in Cincinnati) are wholly intentional. After all, it’s rare to see any team achieve such a compelling level of dominance in any sport. Just look at the stats. 24 victories in 26 games, and 22 of those achieved in regulation. A miserly 26 goals allowed in that time. And a 10-point lead over the closest competitor in the league after comprehensive back-to-back victories on the road against that same rival.
The come the individual achievements. 50 career goals in the Women’s Hockey League for Alex Carpenter, compiled in just 58 games. The same player is on course to top the 53 points she produced in last year’s regular season (Alex currently has 52 with two games to play) and is out in front in the WHL scoring race. Goalie Kimberly Newell extended her personal shut-out streak beyond three hours in this game. Megan Bozek added an assist to her tally for the season, and is one point behind Anna Shibanova in the race to be the top-scoring blue liner in the league. Individually and collectively, our girls have been ahead of all the rest throughout the season.
Just as in Sunday’s game, the Vanke Rays made a fast start. Within the first two minutes, Anna Prugova made two big saves before allowing the opening goal. And, just like on Sunday, that first goal came from another Megan Bozek thunderbolt. This time, her point shot was redirected into the net by Hannah Miller.
However, there were differences from the previous encounter, not least due to the return of Olga Sosina to the Agidel line-up. A key player for club and country, the experienced forward’s contribution had been a big miss for the home team 24 hours earlier. Fit again, she wasted little time warning the Rays of her presence and rattled a shot against the frame of the net a couple of minutes after Miller’s opening goal.
Our girls were still creating the more dangerous chances, though – most notably midway through the first when Lindsay Agnew forced Prugova into a triple save. It was fast becoming clear that the home goalie would need all of her Olympic and World Championship experience to keep her team in this game. But Prugova was powerless late in the frame when Leah Lum connected with Kaitlin Tse’s feed to the back door and doubled the Dragons’ lead.
Late in the first period, Agidel found itself with a 5-on-3 power play after penalties on Jessica Wong and Hannah Miller. But the remaining defense did a superb job at closing down the shooting lanes for the home team and by the time Nicol Cupkova steered Chibanova’s diagonal feed into the net, the hooter had already sounded and the goal was whistled off after a video review. And so KRS completed its 11th successive period without allowing a goal, having previously conceded early in the second period of a 5-1 win over Tornado on Feb. 13.
It wasn’t quite a flawless performance: in the second period a rare defensive lapse gifted Sosina the puck on our blue line and invited her to skate to the net. However, Newell came up with the answer and, in doing so, extended the team’s shut-out streak past four hours since Anna Savonina scored on us in the 27th minute of a 5-1 victory over Tornado.
However, all streaks have to come to an end eventually and Newell was denied a seventh shut-out of the season midway through the third period. In the Rays’ current form, it takes something special to disrupt the team, but Sosina is a special player in her own right and she collected Maria Batalova’s pass, beat Jessica Wong and skated through for a one-on-one will Newell. On 48:42, for the first time in four hours, 22 minutes and 25 seconds – more than 13 periods of hockey – the puck was in our net.
Not that there was any danger of a fightback. KRS went straight back up the ice and scored again to immediately restore that two-goal advantage. Prugova made another good save but Alena Mills recycled the puck behind the net and set up Kaitlyn Tougas to make it 3-1 with a quality snipe out in front. And with the team in this kind of mood, a 5-on-3 power play for the Dragons would only have one outcome: sure enough, Alex Carpenter obliged with her 50th goal in the Women’s Hockey League, extending the lead to 4-1. She was close to #51 as well, denied on a breakaway by a foul from Anna Sviridova then blanked on her penalty shot by the impressive Prugova.
And so, the machine rolls on. Next stop Krasnoyarsk, where the final games of the regular season see us take on Biryusa. Then the it’s playoff time as the Vanke Rays look to complete a hugely impressive defense of the title they won 12 months ago.