Winning start for Lady Dragons

18 October 2020

7.62 Moscow Region 1 KRS Vanke Rays 8

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The KRS Vanke Rays belatedly began their defense of Russia’s WHL championship with a convincing victory at league newcomer 7.62 Moscow Region (the unusual name refers to the 190.5px diameter of a hockey puck). COVID-related postponements meant the Lady Dragons’ first four games of the season had to be rearranged, adding to the excitement at seeing how the new team would perform.

And for Brian Idalski’s girls, it’s very much a new era. We’ve retained many of last season’s top stars – including Alex Carpenter, Rachel Llanes, Megan Bozek, Noora Raty – and added plenty more talent. Sunday’s game brought KRS debuts for seven players, including the first three Russians to play for the franchise. Milena Tretyak got the start in goal ahead of Raty, experienced international Alexandra Vafina slotted into the first line alongside Carpenter and Llanes, while 19-year-old prospect Maria Pushkar, freshly arrived from Tornado, joined Alena Mills and Kaitlyn Tougas on an all-new second line. Canadian duo Kiana Wilkinson and Lindsay Agnew made their debuts on defense.

Although early in the season, these opening games offer a chance for the Rays to measure themselves against last year’s closest rival. Agidel Ufa, beaten in the grand final back in March, entertained 7.62 earlier this month and posted 7-1 and 8-0 victories. Even allowing for the lift that the newcomer could expect from playing its first ever games on home ice in Voskresensk – birthplace of Vyacheslav Kozlov, coach for KRS men’s team – there was every reason to approach the game with confidence.

And that confidence was rewarded with a big win, featuring plenty of landmark moments along the way. Llanes opened the scoring in the fourth minute and went on to claim her 50th point in the WHL when she slotted home a Bozek feed from a tight angle after five minutes of the second period. Alex Carpenter had a goal and three assists as she looks to repeat last season’s league-leading production.

There was also plenty to celebrate for our new girls. Agnew opened her WHL account in the eighth minute when the Boston University graduate made it 2-0. And Pushkar, whose signing was only confirmed two days ago, marked her debut with two goals. The 19-year-old stuffed home a rebound early in the second after Agnew’s shot crashed into the boards and Tougas got the puck back to the slot. Then she found herself all alone in front of the net to convert a feed from Carpenter and make the score 6-1.

The third period saw 7.62 raise its game and the home team created some presentable chances without finding a way past Tretyak. Then, midway through the frame, the Rays showed how it should be done. First came Tougas, firing home from the deep slot after a drop pass from Carpenter. Then, in 52nd minute, Huo Cui scored her first goal in the Women’s Hockey League, finishing off some great play from Llanes. Cui, 32, has been a stalwart of Chinese women’s hockey, representing her country at the Vancouver Olympics and in six World Championship events and today she became the fourth Chinese-born player to score in the WHL. She was tempted back onto the ice last season to add local experience to the Rays’ roster as preparations towards the 2022 Games continue.

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