Agidel Ufa 5 KRS Vanke Rays 2 (3-1, 1-0, 1-1)
A new-look Vanke Rays team went out to take care of old business in Ufa. Since topping the
Women’s Hockey League table and winning through to the playoff final, plenty has changed at our
club. In theory, last season’s roster should have had the chance to finish off the season back in
March, but a COVID outbreak in the Ufa camp, coupled with difficulties fitting in the final series
around the Women’s World Championship, forced a long delay.
In effect, then, the culmination of the 2020/21 campaign and the preparations for 2021/22 were
combined in this series. It’s not an ideal situation for anyone, but circumstances left little alternative.
And our new-look team faced a baptism of fire: no gentle pre-season warm-up, but the start of a
championship series against our strongest rival in our two seasons in the Russian league.
The Vanke Rays’ first game since March 4 got off to a bad start. The first shot of the game, a hopeful
point shot from Agidel’s Anna Sviridova, flashed over Kimberly Newell’s glove to give the home team
the lead after just 25 seconds. And it wasn’t long before a misplaced pass from Jessica Wong
presented Anna Sosina with the chance to double the lead.
This was an unaccustomed situation for our girls, with the Vanke Rays typically powering their way
past most opponents. However, given the background to the game, it was perhaps understandable.
The Rays’ roster right now is vastly different from the one that steamrollered the Women’s Hockey
League last season. Huge player turnover saw 15 new signings and 16 departures in the summer.
More of a problem, Brian Idalski had almost no time to work with his new-look team: due to the
delayed Women’s World Championship, which finished just a week ago, many players were unable
to join up with the team in Russia until a couple of days before the final series got underway. In
addition, many others spent the summer following individual training programs. Thus, there was an
element of rustiness about the team which surely contributed to uncharacteristic errors in the
However, our new faces do not represent any downgrade in terms of quality or experience. When
fully game ready, this team will be as competitive as ever and we got a glimpse of that midway
through the first period when Michela Cava, signed from Lulea in Sweden, stripped Angelina
Makhmutova of the puck in the corner and exchanged passes with her former Lulea team-mate
Emma Nordin before setting up Michelle Karvinen for her first goal since joining us from Swiss team
Lugano. Karvinen, 31, has previous for scoring on Russian goalies: she was on target for Finland in a
4-0 win over the Red Machine during the recent Women’s World Championship.
Unfortunately, the fightback was slowed when Agidel got a power play goal from experienced Slovak
international Nicol Lucak Cupkova. Then a great save from Anna Prugova denied Susanna Tapari–
and at the other end, Newell snuffed out Polina Luchnikova’s solo rush – to make it 1-3 at the first
As the second period began, the next goal was going to be crucial. Vanke Rays tried to force the
tempo in the early exchanges, only to be caught out at the other end: Luchnikova knocked Maria
Pechnikova’s shot out of the air to make it 4-1. That gap looked like it might be decisive, but our girls
kept battling. Despite the rawness of the team, the Lady Dragons were carving out more
opportunities than Agidel, only to find Anna Prugova in obdurate mood between the home team’s
It was clear that the team was growing with every shift as players began to develop an
understanding of each other’s game. And, once we got our first power play of the game in the third
period, a way back opened, however fleetingly. Alena Mills reduced the deficit with a point shot that
deflected off Sviridova’s skate and looped out of Prugova’s reach. With two goals to chase, and more
than 10 minutes to get them, the game was back in the balance if the Vanke Rays could continue to
press the home net.
The work rate was there, as way the attacking initiative. However, with time ticking down, a tripping
call on Mills dealt our hopes a serious blow. Two minutes on the penalty kill did not do any more
damage to the scoreboard but ate up the seconds we needed to salvage the game. An empty net
goal from Ilona Markova merely added gloss to the final score for Agidel.
And thus, game one of the season final ended in defeat. However, this is merely the opening
skirmish, not the entire contest. On Friday, the action moves to Mytishchi – the Vanke Rays’ new
home for the coming season – for the first of, hopefully, two games that will enable the team to
retrieve the situation. Given that, slow start aside, game one was competitive despite the girls’ lack
of preparation, there’s every reason to hope that with a couple more days together we can look
forward to a recovery in game two.