CALGARY – Some might see it as training the enemy.
But not Danielle Goyette. The head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos women’s hockey team in Alberta, Canada was more than happy to bring Russian star Iya Gavrilova into the fold this season.
Gavrilova, a veteran of two Olympic Winter Games at the age of 24, will be one of the players to watch in the women’s hockey tournament at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
One could argue that some of her success – and, in turn, Russia’s success –can be attributed to the university program in Calgary and well-known Canadian legends Goyette and Hayley Wickenheiser, a teammate of Gavrilova’s on the Dinos.
“The more we can help other countries, the better it will be for the game,” says Goyette, who played in three Olympics with Team Canada. “As an athlete, you don’t want to win a game 10-0. You want to go up against the best hockey players, the best athletes. If we can make them better, any country, it will be better for the game.”
Gavrilova isn’t a stranger to North American hockey. She spent the 2007-08 season in the NCAA with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, scoring 19 goals and adding 22 assists for 41 points in 26 games. Remember... she was just 20 years old then.
Gavrilova also spent time with the Minnesota Whitecaps of the Western Women’s Hockey League.
Goyette heard about Gavrilova’s skill and desire to return to college hockey in North America. At the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Switzerland, Goyette met Gavrilova through Shannon Miller – who coached the Russia sensation at Minnesota Duluth – and the partnership came together.
“She’s been a great addition to the team,” says Goyette. “She’s a good player but a great person. They all like her on the team. She loves the game. She always stays after practice.”
Goyette has noticed Gavrilova’s overall game improving since the start of the season. Sure, she always had the individual skill – great hands is the first thing, Goyette says. But Gavrilova is starting to realize that a complete game – in all three zones – is what separates good players from great players.
“She’s got good individual skills and I think most of the Russian players do,” says Wickenheiser, who centres a line with Gavrilova as one of her wingers. “It’s about understanding and fitting into the team game. What’s going to benefit her is learning how to play a five-man game. They don’t do that very much in Russia. When she learns that, she can take that back to her team and help them.”
Gavrilova is certainly doing her part to return the favour to her Canadian coach and linemates.
On Sunday, Gavrilova and the Dinos were crowned champions of Canadian Interuniversity Sport when they defeated the Montreal Carabins 5-1. It was the Dinos’ first title at the national level.
Gavrilova had a goal and an assist in the final game and finished the CIS tournament with three points in three games.
The Dinos reached the CIS Final Four by winning the Canada West Universities Athletic Association title – another first in the Dinos’ history in women’s hockey – and Gavrilova’s play was a big reason why.
On Feb. 25, she scored the first goal of the game, which turned out to be the game-winner, as the Dinos beat their provincial-rival University of Alberta Pandas 2-0 to win the Canada West final two games to none.
Gavrilova finished the 2011-12 playoffs with eight goals in seven games, a tremendous feat for a CIS rookie.
“I made a good decision to come here,” says Gavrilova. “I’m happy so far. The training, the games, the coaching staff, my team. I like to go to school as well. Calgary is a lot about hockey so I like it a lot here.”
Perhaps one of the best compliments for Gavrilova comes from Goyette when she says the Russian is comfortable playing on a line with Wickenheiser. Anyone who follows women’s hockey knows this sometimes isn’t easy. Wickenheiser’s legendary work ethic – on and off the ice – along with her high expectations of teammates – especially linemates – can put a lot of pressure on others.
Gavrilova takes it all in stride.
“Work ethic,” says Gavrilova when asked what she has learned from Wickenheiser. “A lot of it comes from seeing her working on the ice and off the ice. Seeing the skill and what she shows on the ice. It’s nice to learn from her.
“Playing with her on the same line, it makes you better because you move your feet all the time because she’s a very powerful player. It’s easy for me to make a play because I like to pass. You can just pass it to her and you’re gone on a breakout.”
Wickenheiser is more than happy to pay back the compliments.
“She’s certainly very nice for me to play with because, if you get her the puck, she’s probably going to be able to do something with it, create a play,” says Wickenheiser. “She’s good in tight spaces with the puck and sees the ice well. At this level, she can make things happen. I have enjoyed playing with her.”