Beliye Medveditsy Chelyabinsk 0 KRS Shenzhen 2 (0-0, 0-1, 0-1)
A spectacular debut from Karina Zolotaryova backstopped the Lady Dragons to a hard-fought victory in Chelyabinsk. She stopped 39 shots to blank Beliye Medveditsy, securing a 2-0 verdict for the team. The win moves us up to sixth in the Women’s Hockey League, two places and four points behind Tornado in the fourth and final playoff spot.
It’s true that our girls have played more games than any other team in the league. However, our rise up the standings after beginning the season with a long losing streak raises hopes that we can, once again make it to post-season.
Zolotaryova’s elevation to the starting role was the only change from the team that won 4-1 here on Monday. On that occasion, the Dragons were dominant throughout and the only blemish on a great performance was a late goal for the home team that denied Irina Kostina a shut-out. Today, things were very different. Our girls got that shut-out, but had to withstand colossal pressure from the Polar Bears to keep the goal intact. In the first period alone, Shenzhen faced 17 shots on goal. Zolotaryova, who joined us recently from Torpedo, faced a baptism of fire in her new role, but coped admirably to ensure the game was tied at the intermission.
In the second period, Chelyabinsk kept up the pressure. However, our defense dug deep to keep the home team at bay. Then came a rare opportunity to attack, and the opening goal went to Shenzhen. Kiana Wilkinson sent Ryleigh Houston away down the right channel. Houston’s speed took her away from the defense and, after her initial shot was saved, she was first to the loose puck behind the net. Hard work got its reward with some help from Lady Luck: as Ryleigh steered a feed back towards the slot, it bounced off a home skate and into the net.
Although Beliye Medveditsy had the bulk of the play, it was noticeable that the home team was no longer creating quite so much danger around Red Star’s net. In the first period, 37 goal attempts yielded 17 shots on target; in the second it dropped to nine from 23. The logic was inescapable: our defense’s hard work was steadily wearing down an enthusiastic home team.
In the final frame, that pattern continued. For all Chelyabinsk looked to salvage something, its chances were fewer and further between. Indeed, the play was more or less even for long periods and there could be few arguments when the Dragons added a second, killer goal. It had much in common with our opening: Houston’s pace opening up the home defense, then her workrate ensuring she was first to challenge Milena Tretyak when the puck got loose behind the goalie. This time, the pass back to the net found Kaitlyn Tougas, who buried the chance and put the game out of reach.
The Polar Bears made one last push to try to save the game. In the dying minutes, a home power play saw Tretyak go to the bench. With a 6-on-4 advantage, the home team believed it had forced the puck under Zolotaryova and into the net. However, regardless of whether that effort crossed the line, there would be no goal: the officials spotted a foul and Alina Matveyeva went to the penalty box with a minute left to play.
Wednesday’s win wraps up a long road trip for the Dragons. Now, thoughts turn to home. Our next games are in Mytishchi on Sunday and Monday, with SKSO Yekaterinburg providing the opposition.