Onwards and upwards for Russia
by Andy Potts|08 OCT 2018
Master-classes in Russia’s Women’s Hockey League. The teams tried to involve female players from their cities and other venues in their regions like in this picture SKIF Nizhni Novgorod.
photo: Alexander Lobastov
For the second year running, Russia’s Women’s Hockey League celebrated the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend with a range of events across several cities. From video clips in St. Petersburg to master classes in the Moscow Region and Ufa, there was plenty to encourage girls from all over the country to get involved with the sport.

One of the biggest events of the weekend took place in Bogorodsk in the Nizhni Novgorod Region, where local club SKIF staged its now-traditional junior tournament. Bogorodsk, a town of about 40,000 people, is one of several smaller towns within the region that runs its own youth hockey program for girls. On Sunday, it welcomed 150 players – aged 4-14 years – from neighbouring towns such as Gorodets, Lukoyanov or Shatki, and from Nizhni Novgorod itself.

“As one of Russia’s leading women’s hockey clubs, SKIF always pays great attention to events like the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend,” said club spokesman Nikolai Panchenko. “We fully support the IIHF’s initiative and we’re working to develop women’s hockey in our country, and especially in the Nizhni Novgorod Region. Every year, we have more than 150 girls from all over the region taking part in this festival.”

The event began with a skills contest before a round-robin tournament, with teams in two age-groups playing 10-minute games. While that competition is taken seriously, the emphasis is very much on participation. “As well as medals for the champions and competition winners, everyone gets a gift from the organizers and we make sure that everybody goes home happy,” added Panchenko.

“Both age groups were won by teams from Nizhni Novgorod's Nagorni rink. The tournament host did collect some individual prizes in the younger age group, with Yekaterina Malinina selected as best defender and Darya Gusenkina chosen as top forward.”

While SKIF’s young hopefuls were doing their thing in Bogorodsk, the Women’s Hockey League team was on the road to Yekaterinburg where it recorded a comfortable victory over the city’s team. Around the game, the host organized a range of events to encourage girls to take up hockey – and captain Yekaterina Anisimova recalled how things were very different when she started playing.

“It was back in the 1990s and, unlike today, us kids were out in the streets most of the time rather than sitting at home playing on a computer,” she told the Women’s Hockey League website. “One day, a coach came up to us and told us about his hockey team here in Yekaterinburg. I was invited to go along and train, but it was two days later before I told my mother!

“She was happy to see me do it – for her, the most important thing was that I wasn’t out on the streets at all hours.

“Anytime a girl speaks up and says she wants to learn to skate, we need to support that. In any sport, if you start with that desire, you can go on and achieve a lot. But without that desire, no matter how much talent someone has, it’s hard to amount to anything.”
Last season’s WHL champion, Agidel Ufa, staged a master-class – and welcomed teams from as far afield as Magnitogorsk. That helped to swell the numbers at this year’s event to more than 50 – a big step up from the 30 who came 12 months ago. The ‘Night Witches’ of Magnitogorsk – currently the only women’s team in their city – chose to make the 200-mile trip to get a chance to learn from the pros at Agidel and meet other budding amateurs. In Ufa itself, meanwhile, the local women’s hockey scene has been boosted by the creation of a new amateur club, Rossomakhi. Under the guidance of head coach Yulia Golovanova, part of last season’s triumphant Agidel roster, there are plans to have Rossomakhi involved in national competition in the coming seasons.
Group photo of Tornado Moscow Region's World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend event.
photo: Anton Denisov
Tornado Moscow Region also staged a master-class over the weekend, with about 40 youngsters heading to the provincial town of Odintsovo to train with Russian internationals Maria Lobur, Maria Alexandrova and Yelizaveta Shkalyova, as well as Svetlana Bobrova, a bronze medallist at January’s U18 Women’s Worlds in Dmitrov.

Further East, in the heart of Siberia, Biryusa Krasnoyarsk turned Saturday’s home game against SK Gorny of Ukhta into part of the worldwide festivities. Young fans were invited to meet their heroes and take part in various skill contests … and the home team rewarded its supporters with a 4-2 victory.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg there was a reminder that girls of any age can take up the game. Dynamo St. Petersburg released a video clip showing the adventures of media manager Tatyana Chernova. In 15 years as a hockey correspondent and press officer, she had never had the chance to try out on the ice – until this year’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. The clip, which is only available in Russian at present, can be watched below.
2018 World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend