A new-look roster is tasked with finishing last season’s job
The long-awaited Women’s Hockey League final starts today with your KRS Vanke Rays going all out
to defend the title they won in 2020. But, after a delay from the original dates in March, it’s a very
different team taking to the ice in Ufa in the opening game of the best-of-three series against Agidel.
Head coach Brian Idalski’s roster has widespread changes from the team that topped the regular
season table in powerful fashion, prompted at least in part by the desire to give opportunities to
young Chinese players ahead of the Beijing Olympics in February. And he admits that’s made it tough
to prepare for action in what is now both a season finale and a pre-season experiment.
“We’ve not had enough time [to play together],” Idalski told the Women’s Hockey League website.
“The players are steadily coming back to Russia from different countries. Due to their involvement at
the World Championship, several players only joined the team in September. We finally named our
roster just a few days ago.”
That disrupted preparation also means that players are in differing physical condition. Some were at
their peak for the Worlds, others are only just returning to training. Even so, Idalski expects his team
to be competitive. “We’ll show everything that we are capable of,” he added. “We have strong,
talented individual players. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t always guarantee victory.”
So who is on the team for the new season, which also sees the club move to Arena Mytishchi along
with the KRS men’s team?
Kimberley Newell returns and will surely be the lead netminder this season. It’s her fourth campaign
with the Rays and the 25-year-old’s numbers get better every year. She’s joined by Marlene
Boissonault, a 24-year-old Canadian who played for Idalski at the University of North Dakota. Cover
comes from Siye He, 22, who returns after skipping last season. She’s played in Russian and Canada
for the Rays, and also has international experience with Team China.
Some big names have moved on, most notably Megan Bozek, who was last seen helping Team USA
to World Championship silver in Calgary. But Jessica Wong, Kaitlin Tse and Minnamari Tuominen are
back, with the latter bringing a bronze medal from her recent efforts for team Finland. Zhixin Liu,
who made the WHL All-Star game in 2020, is back on the team after missing last season; she should
be a big player for club and country this season.
New recruits include Finland’s Anna Kilponen, who played at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and
Canada’s Abby Thiessen, another North Dakota graduate who played last season with Leksands in
Again, some of our long-serving stars have moved on. Alex Carpenter and Hannah Miller, tormentors
in chief of Russian goalies, are no longer with us. Those two, along with Bozek, were in the top 10 for
scoring in the league last season. But there is plenty of firepower left: Rachel Llanes, Leah Lum,
Alena Mills and Emily Costales return. In addition, the club has recruited some Nordic talent:
Michelle Karvinen brings a wealth of high-level international experience and, along with fellow Finn
Susanna Tapani, was part of the reason bronze-medal winning team at the Worlds. Experienced
Swede Emma Nordin is a three-time Olympian and four-time Swedish champion. She’s also second in
all-time goal scoring in that league. Throw in Ludmila Belyakova, a Russian international who had a
spell with the Riveters in the WNHL, and you’ve got plenty of elite experience and scoring potential.
Then comes a clutch of Chinese talent firmly eying that Beijing Olympic opportunity. Most of these
players have been involved with the KRS system for some years, but due to the travel constraints in
place last season they were unable to join the team and progress as planned. Yunlin Pi (21), Bowen
Jiang (24), Minghui Kong (29) and Xin Fang (27) will all be eager to press their claims for international
recognition ahead of the biggest season of their careers.
The Women’s Hockey League final series against Agidel starts Tuesday in Ufa. Game two is in
Mytishchi on Friday, with a third, decisive encounter to be played on Saturday if needed.