Our champion women’s team has two very special games on Friday and Saturday, when the KRS Vanke Rays take on Team Russia in a pair of exhibition games.
For Russia’s international representatives, it’s an important part of preparations towards this year’s World Championship. The tournament is due to take place in Canada in April but, due to coronavirus restrictions, the usual competitions during the season are cancelled and there are few opportunities for national teams to get ready for the championship.
Meanwhile, the Vanke Rays are looking for opportunities to test their players. It’s all part of our own role in helping to prepare China’s women’s team for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing – an event just a year away now. The Chinese national program has been frustrated by the cancellation of its World Championship campaigns this year and last. The loss of the 2021 Division 1B tournament is a particularly hard blow since it was due to be played on home ice in Beijing as a test event for the Olympic venues. While the Rays, of course, boast an international roster, we also have several players with a long history of international action for China, including 2010 Olympians Xueting Qi, Shuang Zhang, Cui Huo and Liang Tang. For these players, the chance to test themselves against one of Europe’s strongest teams is a big opportunity to assess their strength against an Olympic rival.
And Russia, bronze medallist at the last World Championship to be played back in 2019, promises to bring a strong team to these games. Most of the country’s key players are involved, including our own forward Alexandra Vafina, herself a veteran of two Olympics and nine World Championships. There are also plenty of the leading players from the Women’s Hockey League, familiar foes from club action. Key opponents could include SKIF’s goalie Valeriya Merkusheva, whose shut-out sent Brian Idalski’s team spinning to its first loss of the season back in the fall, and Agidel’s Olga Sosina, architect of her team’s win over the Lady Dragons last month.
Defenseman Nina Pirogova, who plays for WHL team Tornado, is certainly looking forward to the weekend action – even in the middle of a busy league schedule.
“Due to the coronavirus, the schedule of [league] games has shifted and got much busier, but everyone is shrugging off the fatigue and working as hard as they can,” she told the Russian Hockey Federation website. “Right now, we have two exhibition games ahead of us and we need to put on a show, to see where we are strong and where we need to improve. It’s a chance to look at new players and new lines … because we haven’t played any tournaments for a long time.”
The Vanke Rays welcome Team Russia to Stupino on Friday Feb. 5 (face-off 1330 Moscow Time) and Saturday Feb. 6 (1800). The first game is due to be streamed live on the WHL YouTube channel.