11 January 2021 WHL
The Lady Dragons did not have to wait long to avenge Sunday’s loss at home to Agidel. Less than 24 hours later, the teams were back on the ice in Stupino and this time the host took the win thanks to an impressive display on the power play. Once again, though, table-topping Agidel made it tough for our defending champions despite coming into the game with just 13 players on the roster.
After yesterday’s game, where the Rays fell too far behind early on, getting the first goal was crucial. Not least because it was clear yesterday and even more so today that a shortbenched Agidel roster would inevitably tire in the latter stages of the game, especially if it had to chase the game rather than protect a lead. So, when our girls broke the deadlock in the 13th minute, converting a 5-on-3 power play, it’s not surprising that it attracted an emotional response from both teams. Megan Bozek was the scorer, forcing home the rebound after Rachel Llanes’ shot was blocked. As she turned away to celebrate, Bozek jostled the visitor’s Ilona Markova. The aggrieved Agidel forward turned vigilante, attacking Bozek from behind as she greeted her team-mates, prompting Hannah Miller to step in on behalf of the goalscorer. And to think, some people complain that women’s hockey lacks the aggression and physical intensity of the men’s game …
The lead did not last long. Markova and Miller had barely returned to the game when Elina Mitrofanova got clear of the home defense and, with Markova on hand to make a 2-on-0 rush, she fired low past Kimberly Newell to tie the scores.
It stayed that way until the first intermission and after the break the Lady Dragons found it hard to solve Maria Sorokina in the visitor’s net. However, another power play chance in the 28th minute was swiftly converted to restore the lead. Llanes fed Bozek for a shot from the blue line and when Sorokina stopped that one, Llanes tucked away the rebound. There was a video review, with Agidel feeling that Hannah Miller had impeded the goalie when she skated on to the paint, but the replay clearly showed that she had been pushed into Sorokina’s path by an Ufa defender and the goal was valid.
Yet another power play goal opened a 3-1 lead, with Leah Lum’s spin and pass setting up a point shot for Alena Mills which whistled through a crowd of players into the net midway through the frame. The home PP was impressive not just for its high conversion rate, but also the speed with which it turned numerical advantage into goals: all three came within 30 seconds.
Agidel refused to back down and Elizaveta Rodnova pulled a goal back with the Rays reduced to three skaters, but a breakaway from Jessica Wong forced Olga Sosina into a desperate foul and handed the home team a penalty shot. Alex Carpenter converted that in emphatic style to make it 4-2 and shortly afterwards we were back to full strength.
But the game still wasn’t done. Agidel started the third period by pulling a goal back to keep the pressure on our girls. Nicol Cupkova was the scorer with a fine individual effort; notably as the strain of playing back-to-back with a roster of just 13 players took its toll, Agidel had to rely more on individual brilliance than coherent teamwork. Anna Shibanova underlined that point, launching a solo raid of her own from defense, only for Newell to close the door on her hopes of tying the game.
For the Dragons’ part, a long winter lay-off means that our own passing game is still working back towards its familiar fluency. As the pressure intensified in the closing minutes of the game, this began to impact on our play. Suddenly it was getting difficult to clear the puck from the home zone, and Newell was called upon to make a string of big saves to preserve that slender advantage. Relief came late in the game, not through the often-seen empty net goal but when Polina Luchnikova collided with Newell and was sent to the penalty box. That disrupted the opposition’s momentum, robbing it of the chance to unleash one last storm in the last minute. KRS closed out the game and took the verdict.
Thus, the first two games between last seasons top two teams were shared. However, it makes little sense to read too much into the outcome of these regular season match-ups, whether here or in Ufa. After all, last season the Vanke Rays struggled against Agidel until the playoffs, then stepped up a gear to sweep through the final in Ufa. This time, with both teams battling against difficult circumstances off the ice, the games can offer few reliable indicators about how the season might finish – but can provide a testament to the quality and resilience of the top teams in the Women’s Hockey League.
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