DMITROV, Russia – Russia wrapped up a triumphant campaign in the 2011 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship Division I with another comfortable victory, shooting down France 10-0 in Sunday’s concluding fixture.
Surprisingly demoted to Division I last year, the squad played convincingly in front of up to 2,000 fans at the games in Dmitrov and will rejoin the elite nations next year.
The hosts had been in imperious form throughout the tournament, which they started with a crushing 19-0 thrashing of Kazakhstan.
And from the moment Diana Bulatova swept them in front in the third minute there was little prospect of an upset in Dmitrov.
Instead, with thoughts in Russia already looking ahead to Sochi's 2014 Winter Olympics and the prospect of a second medal in women’s hockey (after bronze in the 2001 Worlds), it was the attacking play of Yevgenia Dyupina, Yelena Dergacheva and Lyudmila Belyakova which caught the eye.
The trio combined for more than 40 points in a tournament where the hosts often ran rampant, and even if Sochi is a bit too soon for players who have another year of U18 hockey still ahead of them, they looked more than capable of leading Russia’s medal charge in the future.
Dmitrov’s compact but comfortable Ice Palace was well-populated by a lively crowd, with even a few French tricoloures in sight among the drums and flags of the home supporters in this small town 65 km north of Moscow.
It wasn’t this season’s first under-18s tournament held at the home of perennial women’s title challengers Tornado Moscow Region: back in September Alexander Ulyankin’s squad had staged a four-nation clash with top-flight opponents from Finland, Sweden and Germany.
Ulyankin himself was brought in as head coach this season and told to transform the team’s fortunes, prompting a root-and-branch reassessment of the squad.
“We collected all the best players from across Russia in order to create competition,” he said of his squad. “That is how it happens in Canada and America.”
That meant a move away from looking almost exclusively at players in European Russia, and the appointment of mentors for leading talents all over the country to help them develop wherever they are playing.
And the new strategy paid off, with World Championship success means the double-headed eagles will be flying into more regular dogfights with the top women’s nations at junior level as well as senior.
In comparison with their rivals in Division I, Russia simply looked better drilled and more adept at playing as a team.
Despite naming a squad which included two players from Siberia’s Gazovik Tyumen and another from the remote Eastern province of Yakutia, Russia aims to get its squad together for monthly training sessions - and the difference in cohesion and coordination on the ice was striking.
It wasn’t just the attacking play, which relied on individual runs far less than the others in the tournament; the solid well-drilled defence also impressed. An early French power play disappeared as the Russian quartet simply pressed their rivals back into the neutral zone, and that set the tone for a performance which left France little hope of recovering from that early Bulatova strike.
Indeed, Russia conceded just two goals all week, with second goaltender Margarita Monakhova managing an impressive 90 minutes unbeaten between the pipes during the tournament, though such was her team’s dominance that she was rarely subjected to a stern examination.
After grabbing that early lead, Russia never looked back. The host’s first power play ended inside three seconds; Yekaterina Skorodumova won the face-off, Anna Shibanova shot from the blue line and Lilit Karoyan touched it home.
Then on 15:02 the competition’s top-scoring line showed itself at last: Belyakova produced a gutsy finish after being released by Dyupina’s incisive pass. Despite being fouled by the keeper Mathilde Bopp, Belyakova managed to force the puck home while sprawled across the ice.
She went on to score a hat-trick on the night and take her tournament tally to 11, while Karoyan also claimed a treble, with her second power play effort coming on 19:59 to leave France 4-0 at the hooter and suffering from shell-shock.
Not that the break offered much respite: within a minute it was 5-0 as a third French penalty led almost instantly to a Russian goal, this time for Dyupina.
Dyupina then turned provider for Belyakova’s second and some great stick-work from Valeria Pavlova made it 7-0 before the end of the second period.
It was already a procession by the start of the third period, and Russia secured their twin targets of shutting out the French and reaching double figures for the second time in the tournament.
Belyakova and Karoyan completed their hat-tricks and Anastasia Mishlankova chipped in her fifth of the tournament; France, brave but overwhelmed, had goaltender Bopp to thank for a player-of-the-match performance which kept the scoreline down.
Silver for Slovakia
Earlier in the final afternoon Slovakia secured the silver medal with a 5-2 win over Austria, who had to settle for bronze.
Viktoria Ihnatova was the star of the show for the Slovaks, scoring three and weighing in with an assist on the first of Livia Lucova's two strikes.
And that left Slovakia with four wins from five matches, with their only defeat coming against the hosts.
Norway grabbed fourth place by beating Kazakhstan 7-2 in their final game to stay ahead of France.
And for a team whose organizers admit that hosting training sessions is a challenge when players have to travel from the country’s Arctic north, that was a satisfactory result even if it left them out of the medals.
1. Russia 15
2. Slovakia 12
3. Austria 9
4. Norway 6
5. France 3
6. Kazakhstan 0
Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Romana Kiapesova, Slovakia
Best Defenceman: Angelina Goncharenko, Russia
Best Forward: Anna Meixner, Austria
Click here for scores and stats.