10 January 2021 WHL
A crazy spell of four goals in five first-period minutes left the KRS Vanke Rays with too much to do to save their first game of 2021. Up against the current league leader, a slow start cost Brian Idalski’s team despite a fightback from 1-5 that fell agonizingly short.
After more than a month without a game, the Lady Dragons returned to the ice with a tough assignment against league leader Agidel. There’s already history between these teams, as last season’s grand final ended with the Vanke Rays winning the cup in Ufa.
KRS did not enjoy ideal preparations for the first game of 2021: having finished their engagements back on December 7, the team dispersed for a long winter break. The plan was to allow everyone to spend the Christmas and New Year period with their families and allow time to comply with the various quarantine regulations in force around the world. However, this meant that the team could not reconvene until Friday, just 48 hours before the game. Many players also faced long return journeys.
Agidel, meanwhile, played two games last week – but had to contend with an injury crisis that left the league leader with just 13 healthy players. Nominally listed as four defense and nine forwards, in reality players had to split their roles – Nicol Cupkova, for example, swapped her usual attacking role for shifts on the blue line, totting up more than 30 minutes of game time in each of the recent games at Tornado. However, a lack of personnel did not make this opponent any less dangerous – its first game in Dmitrov finished with an 8-1 victory and star forward Olga Sosina scored her 300th career WHL point along the way.
And it was Sosina who opened the scoring in Sunday’s game, beating Noora Raty after a pass from center ice sprang the home defense. However, it was also Sosina who took the game’s first penalty and the Lady Dragons quickly converted the power play, thanks to Megan Bozek’s mighty shot past Anna Prugova in the visitor’s net.
Those who expected the Rays to roll on to another convincing victory were in for a rude awakening, though. Agidel regained the lead with a power play goal of its own midway through the first period. Cupkova, warming to her impromptu defensive role, smashed home a point shot with Sosina among the assists. And the visitor made it 3-1 before the intermission when a fine piece of individual skill from Ksenia Tyurina saw her beat her marker and outwit Raty up close. There was more to come. An error behind the net enabled Ilona Markova to score, then Sosina’s second of the game made it 5-1 after 17 minutes.
Even if we could reasonably expect the opposition to tire, retrieving a four-goal deficit would be no easy task. Thus, it was vital that another Vanke Rays power play late in the first yielded a goal. With one second left, Rachel Llanes fired home an Alex Carpenter feed to make it 2-5. The game was still alive, although Raty was replaced by Kimberly Newell at the first break.
Inspired by that goal, the Lady Dragons stepped up the tempo at the start of the second period, with Prugova suddenly finding herself overworked in the Agidel net. The Russian international performed superbly to keep KRS at bay, and when she was beaten by Alex Carpenter, the puck rebounded off the post to safety. In total, the Rays fired in 24 attempts in the middle frame and Prugova stopped 11 shots before she was beaten by the last effort she faced. Bozek unleashed another thunderbolt to claim a short-handed goal and make it 3-5, 30 seconds before the intermission.
In the third it was clear that playing shortbenched was taking its toll on Agidel. Wave after wave of KRS offense bore down on Prugova’s net and there were fewer and fewer chances to relieve the pressure. Alena Mills pulled another goal back, converting the rebound from her own shot to make it 4-5 and the chances kept on coming. Emily Costales went close, testing Prugova after good work from Kaitlyn Tougas. An exhausted Agidel struggled to stay out of the box and another home power play saw Carpenter test the goalie, but at the other end, Kimberly Newell had to be alert to deny a dangerous solo raid from Sosina.
There were more power play opportunities for KRS late in the game, and our girls finished the action playing 6-on-4 in a bid to salvage the situation. This time, though, it was not meant to be. The teams meet again tomorrow and the Lady Dragons will have revenge on their minds.