The KRS Vanke Rays return to action this week after the international break and our club is making
its first visit to Chelyabinsk to play the newly-formed Beliye Medveditsy team. The Women’s Hockey
League newcomer is part of the Traktor organization, familiar from our regular battles in the KHL,
and also boasts a player well known to Rays’ fans in the form of goalie Milena Tretyak. Milena played
for the Lady Dragons last season, featuring in seven games and winning all of them. So far this term,
she’s made 12 appearances for the newcomer, and was between the piping for both of the team’s
victories to date.
During the pause at the start of November, the focus was firmly on the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Team China now knows its opponents at the Games: the weekend saw the end of the women’s
qualification process, with Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic booking their tickets to China.
All three will contest Group B alongside Japan and ourselves, with the top three teams progressing
to the quarter finals.
Sweden brings a wealth of international pedigree: this was the first time the Tre Kronor had to go
through Olympic qualification, having previously got to every Games based on its world ranking.
Denmark, by contrast, will play its first Olympics after surprising Germany to win its qualification
group in Fussen. The Czechs, meanwhile, feature Alena Mills, who was with the Lady Dragons last
season. She scored three goals in three games to help her country win through on home ice in
Chomutov. Like Denmark, the Czechs are now preparing to take their bow in the women’s Olympic
As the host nation, of course, China was not involved in the qualification tournament. Instead, we
used the break from WHL action to play two games against Team Russia – a stiff test against an
opponent with genuine medal hopes at the upcoming games.
The first encounter ended in a 1-3 reverse, with Rachel Llanes potting a consolation goal late in the
game. But game two was a hugely encouraging affair. Once again, Llanes was on the scoresheet to
give China the lead, this time with a short-handed goal at the start of the second period. And the
girls were within seconds of claiming a notable victory, only to be denied by a familiar foe. Olga
Sosina, whose late contribution for Agidel turned around last season’s playoff final in the Ufa team’s
favor, was back to haunt us once more: first, she set up Nina Pirogova for a last-gasp tying goal, then
she scored the winner in the shoot-out.
Despite missing out on a victory that would have sent a real statement to the other Olympic
contenders, there was still plenty of encouragement to take from the two games. Head coach Brian
Idalski believes that playing Team Russia will be valuable experience for both the remainder of the
WHL season and the Olympics.
“The speed, energy and skill levels of the Russian players are really important for us, so that we can
understand how to play in these games,” our head coach told the WHL website. “Team Russia is
stronger than any team in the WHL. These games were the fastest we’ve played all year. We’ve not
had so many games with our current team, so it’s not easy to draw conclusions, but these were
definitely the quickest games that we’ve played.
“We can pick out positives: we’ve seen how we need to play at this level, how important it is to
block shots and win those individual battles. I think it’s a good lesson for us. We’ve identified things
that we still need to work on.”