Konysheva leads at 49
by Derek O'Brien|07 MAY 2022
49-year-old captain Olga Konysheva of the Kazakh women’s national team at the recent 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B.
photo: Michal Chwieduk
Olga Konysheva, captain of the Kazakh women’s national team, has decided to retire after having recently represented her country at age 49. 

“Of course I have some emotions about it,” said Konysheva. “I have many friends on the team and I will miss them, but I think it’s enough. In another month I’m going to be 50. It’s time to move on.”

Born on 29 May 1972, Konysheva is three months and 14 days younger than Jaromir Jagr, who continued playing beyond his 50th birthday on 15 February and is currently undecided about playing next season. Konysheva and Jagr share a professional connection, both playing for Avangard Omsk in the Russian Women’s Hockey League and KHL, respectively, although not at the same time.

“I was in Kazakhstan when he played in Omsk,” said Konysheva. “But I met him at the Olympics in Salt Lake City – our dressing room was close to theirs.”

Yes, currently a team mired in Division I Group B, Kazakhstan’s women’s team played at the 2002 Winter Olympics and also competed in five elite-level Women’s World Championships between 2001 and 2010. Konysheva played in all of them.

“My first was in 2001 and I participated every year since other than during the quarantine period,” she said.
The 2002 Olympics were one of Olga Konysheva’s first international tournaments.
photo: IIHF Archive
Konysheva’s first World Championship in 2001 was played across six cities in Minnesota, USA. Canada beat the host USA 3-2 in the final. The winning goal was scored by current NHL TV analyst Jennifer Botterill, who was also the tournament MVP. The leading scorer with 13 points was Cammi Granato, who is now an assistant general manager with the Vancouver Canucks. 

Kazakhstan lost five straight games and was relegated. 

At the next year’s Olympics, the Kazakh women were again winless but managed to take China to overtime in the game for seventh place. Kazakhstan managed a shootout win over Russia in 2005 and an overtime win over Switzerland in 2009, but last played in the elite group in 2011. 

“Of course it was amazing to see Canada, the USA, and these other teams at the top of women’s hockey,” she recalled. “It was a beautiful time. The best time for women’s hockey in Kazakhstan.”

When Konysheva was growing up in the Soviet Union, there was no organized women’s hockey to speak of, so she instead got into speed skating. She was a hockey fan, however, and when asked who her favourite players were, she said without hesitation, “Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov,” the famed “Green Unit” of the 1980s.

In 1994, when she was 22, Konysheva finally began playing hockey and her speed on skates helped her transition. From 1996 to 2000, she played for Omsk in the RWHL, which had only begun operating in 1995.
Olga Konysheva battles for position against Canadian star Caroline Ouellette at the 2011 Women’s Worlds.
photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
The Kazakh women’s national team was also first organized in 1995 but didn’t compete at a World Championship until 2000 and Konysheva has been involved almost right from the beginning. The Kazakh women started two steps down from the elite group and that’s where they find themselves right now, in Division I Group B. They haven’t moved up or down from there since 2016 and they’ll stay in 2023, following a fourth-place finish in Katowice, Poland this year, managing two wins in five games.

“Of course, we wanted to win every game but sometimes we just didn’t get the chances and it didn’t work out for us,” said Konysheva. “But we tried our best.”

Kazakhstan’s last game was a 2-0 win over Slovenia.

“It was a hard game and we played well offensively,” said Konysheva, who assisted on her team’s second goal. “We had many chances to score but only scored twice, but we won anyway so we’re happy.”

A couple weeks later, she played the last game of the season for Aisulu Almaty in the Kazakh women’s league, winning the domestic title for the fifth straight year.

“I think this was the last year but...” she trailed off, speaking after the last World Championship game.

Konysheva has since reaffirmed her decision to retire. But moving on doesn’t mean abandoning hockey.

“I would like to stay involved in the game and coach young girls, and maybe these young girls can help us return to the top division,” she said optimistically.

“I hope so. That’s what we’re trying to do, but it has to go step-by-step.”