KRS Vanke Rays 2 Agidel Ufa 3 SO (1-1, 0-0, 1-1, 0-0, 0-1)
The Vanke Rays were just moments away from defending their Russian Women’s Hockey League
title, but a tying goal late in overtime saved Agidel. Then, some heroic goaltending in overtime and a
clinical display in the shoot-out from Olga Sosina saw the visitor snatch the trophy in a dramatic
finale to the 2020/21 season.
Having tied the series with a 4-1 victory yesterday, KRS Vanke Rays had the momentum going into
the decider on Saturday lunchtime. Head coach Brian Idalski named an unchanged team and, for
long periods, his players looked to be on the road to back-to-back championships. After falling
behind midway through the first, the Lady Dragons tied it up almost immediately through Leah Lum.
Then, early in the third, Alena Mills got the go-ahead goal. It looked as though the ex-Agidel player
might have denied her former team-mates the big prize, but a goal out of nothing late in the game
too us into overtime.
The extras, 10 minutes of four-on-four, turned into something of a shooting gallery. Visiting goaltender Maria Sorokina, recalled to the Agidel team for the first time in this series, pulled of
several huge saves. The pick of the bunch, perhaps, was to deny Michelle Karvinen in a one-on-one
break, but there was much more as Ufa killed a penalty early in the frame and then stopped Emma
Nordin with the clock running down. At the other end, Agidel twice hit the outside of the post but
this game was destined to go to a shoot-out.
Once again, the Rays had the initiative: Karvinen and Michela Cava twice put our girls in front, and
when Sosina stepped up for her first attempt it was a win-or-bust chance to save the game. But
Team Russia’s captain beat Kimberly Newell, taking the shoot-out into sudden death, and repeated
the trick to give Agidel the trophy.
In the first two games, Agidel made the faster start. Denis Afinogenov clearly recognized that his
team needed to get ahead on the scoreboard if it was to have much hope of holding the Dragons at
arm’s length, and his tactics were very much geared towards hitting the front and challenging the
Vanke Rays to fight back.
In game three, though, the opening exchanges were far more even. Indeed, the Rays came close to
opening the scoring in the seventh minute when only the width of the post denied Susanna Tapani.
In response, Agidel got on a power play and began to apply the pressure. Olga Sosina rang the iron
at the other end as our defense was forced into action. The penalty was killed, but it wasn’t long
before the visitor’s pressure paid off when Maria Mikaelyan converted the rebound from Anna
Sviridova’s shot. That was a memorable first goal in adult hockey for Ufa’s 15-year-old prospect.
However, she did not have long to relish the moment. The Vanke Rays delivered an almost
immediate riposte. Nicol Lucak Cupkova was caught out of position as she tracked back to support
her defense, and Michela Cava’s pass took the Slovak international out of the play and sent Leah
Lum through on goal to beat Maria Sorokina. The 26-year-old Agidel goalie, who was born in
Mytishchi, was recalled to the starting line-up ahead of Anna Prugova today, having previously
backstopped her team through a tense three-game semi-final against SKIF.
Deadlocked after 20 minutes, the Rays looked to force the tempo in the second stanza. However, it
was hard work against a resolute visiting defense. Agidel’s PK twice stifled the home attack and
perhaps the most dangerous moment – an appetising feed from Samantha Cogan behind the net
that flashed across the slot – went begging for want of a decisive touch. This was true playoff hockey
– every inch of the ice hard won; every shot, every attacking opportunity laboriously carved out in
the face of determined opposition.
Early in the third, KRS got the goal that almost won it. A broken play behind the net saw Cogan
collect the loose puck on the edge of the trapezoid. Samantha spotted Alena Mills unmarked on the
slot and picked out the former Agidel forward for the go-ahead goal.
Subsequently, in search of a killer two-goal lead, Tuominen’s shot was fumbled for Sorokina who
looked on in relief as the puck skipped away from Cava’s stick and kept Agidel in the game. Time was
running out, and the home PK had done its job to stifle a big chance for the visitor, when Ufa’s Ilona
Markova struck a devastating blow. Her angled shot from the corner seemed to be an attempt in
hope more than expectation yet somehow it crept inside Newell’s near post to tie the game. There
was an anxious three minutes for the Rays to subdue a revitalized opponent before we moved into
sudden death overtime.
And, on such fine margins, seasons are decided. Two strong, well-matched teams, battled one
another to a standstill. A different bounce of the puck at either end of the ice might have produced a
different outcome but there is nothing for our girls to be ashamed of in a performance that could so
easily have ended with another trophy in the cabinet. So, while it’s congratulations to Agidel on
winning back the title, it’s also time to prepare for the new season … and to get ready to try and
reclaim that crown.