Lady Dragons set for new test

25 November 2023

WhatsApp Image 2023 11 25 at 11.05.50

KRS Shenzhen is back in action this weekend as the Chinese Women’s Championship gets underway.

It’s new territory for the Lady Dragons, who have never previously contested the domestic championship in their homeland. However, after three seasons in the Russian Women’s Hockey League, it was time for a change – not least to ensure that Team China could prepare for its return to the top division of World Championship play without its leading players based in a foreign championship.

This year’s tournament features six other teams. KRS Shenzhen will face opposition from two cities in China’s hockey heartland, Harbin and Qiqihar. The country’s biggest cities, Beijing and Shanghai are represented. And, as the game grows in popularity, Hebei and Sichuan complete the line-up. The championship will be decided via four mini-tournaments. The first of these starts Saturday in Qiqihar, with KRS facing Beijing in its opening game. It’s set to be a round-robin contest, and there will be two repeats later in December played in Harbin and at our Shenzhen home. The teams with the best records through those three events will advance to a playoff round in Beijing in January.

So much for the format, what about the personnel? We’re excited to have some Dragons’ legends back with us. Noora Raty, regarded as the best female goalie in the world during a globetrotting career, returns to the club as goaltending coach. Noora had five spells with KRS, contributing to both our Russian championship wins as well as featuring in the CWHL days. She was also part of the only European team to reach a World Championship final, when Finland was agonizingly close to victory over the USA on home ice in 2019. Raty also has four World Championship bronze medals, and double Olympic bronze. That’s a fantastic range of elite experience to help our goalies prepare for club and country.

On the playing side, her fellow Finn Minttu Tuominen is also ready to return. In Russian championship play, she had 24 (7+17) points from 36 games, plus six assists in 13 playoff outings. A potent threat from the blue line, she played a key role in our 2022 title. Another familiar face, Aleksandrs Petrov, was on our coaching staff last season. His familiarity with many of our home-grown Chinese talents will be invaluable as we face a new test this term.

And the man leading us into that new challenge is head coach Ivo Mocek. The Ostrava native had major junior experience in the QMJHL, but played the bulk of his career in his native Czech Republic. As a coach, he spent four seasons with the Metropolitan Riveters in the NWHL. That was a cosmopolitan team, featuring Kazakhstan’s first professional female player as well as Tuominen and her fellow Finn Anna Kilponen, who also played for KRS.

Mocek, 35, is looking forward to a new challenge in his first trip to China. “Shenzhen was first on my radar when they started playing in the CWHL and then in the WHL,” he said. “I know a few players who used to play here before: Alena Mills, Leah Lum, Anna Kilponen and of course Minttu Tuominen, who is on the team this year as well.

“KRS is a championship team and Brian Idalski set high standards here, winning two championships in the past. My only goal coming here this season is to win.”

And his first impressions are positive – both of Shenzhen as a city, and KRS as a team. “I’m very impressed with how the KRS organization is being run. Everything here is on a very high professional level, better than many women’s hockey organizations in North America. There are many talented players on the team and it has been a pleasure working with them.

“It’s my first time in China and Shenzhen has been absolutely great so far. I like how green the city is. It’s like one big park and I very much enjoy it.”

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