January 6, 2018
by Andy Potts
A big crowd in Dmitrov inspired Russia to its first ever victory over Canada in Women’s U18 World Championship play.
What difference does home ice advantage make? For Russia at the start of the 2018 Women’s World U18 Championship, the boost from playing in Dmitrov was huge. Prior to this game, Russia had never beaten Canada in a tournament at this level, but today Yevgeni Bobariko’s team improved on its previous best, an overtime loss in the 2014 semi-final, and beat the Canadians 3-2.
For Daria Beloglazova, who plays her hockey for the Tornado club here in Dmitrov and who scored the second Russian goal, that support played a big part in the outcome.
“We’d never beaten Canada before and we wanted to put that right in front of this crowd,” she said after the game. “The really pushed us forward, helped us to play faster.”
The significance of the victory was not lost on either team. Canada’s head coach, Delaney Collins, admitted that despite her disappointment it was a good thing for women’s hockey to see teams capable of challenging the North American stranglehold.
“It was great to see those fans, and I’m certainly happy for the Russian team to win with that crowd, but overall our team is disappointed,” she said.”
It was close to a full house in the 2,500-capacity arena in this Moscow Region town, and a fiercely partisan home crowd roared its team into action from the moment the puck was dropped. The Russians had talked confidently before the competition about being able to compete with the North American teams – and went out to prove it in a compelling first period.
Canada found itself absorbing more pressure than it might have anticipated against a team that has never beaten it in World Championship play at this level. There was an early warning when Beloglazova flashed a shot millimetres wide of Madelyn McArthur’s net. Then came delirium for the home fans when, on 6:33, Russia took the lead.
It was a classic breakaway goal: Russia won a defensive face-off, Yelena Mezentseva fed the puck to Maria Alexandrova and, with Canada’s Margaret MacEachern backing off, the Tornado forward found a shooting lane to beat McArthur low to the glove side.
With a medley of stirring Russian tunes – from Katyusha to Polyushka Pole – blasting out in the breaks in play, the atmosphere remained feverish. On the ice, the home team kept doing its bit and came close to a second goal when the puck fell to Oxana Bratisheva in front of the net, but the top scorer on last year’s bronze-medal winning roster could not get her shot away and the chance was lost.
“I wouldn’t say we were surprised by that pressure, but I think perhaps our athletes were a little bit intimidated by that crowd,” Collins added. “Don’t forget, these are still under 18s. I think they team did well to rebound, to stay in the game.”
Canada finally got its offensive mojo back on a power play, and was able to play a long shift of 6-on-4 following a delayed Russian penalty. But the home defence was well-drilled, and a frustrated visiting offence ended by giving up a penalty of its own. As the first period came to an end, Diana Farkhutdinova pulled off a big save to deny Canada’s Allexis Adzija after a solo break.
Canada’s hopes of reasserting itself early in the middle frame got lost in a couple of early penalties. Collins’ team came into the game more, but was finding it tough to break down a hugely committed Russian defence. A passage of play midway through the session, with Russia’s Alina Orlova stumbling in centre ice yet still stretching out her stick as she sprawled across the surface, preventing a Canadian breakaway chance, highlighted the effort the home team was pouring into this game.
Russia’s head coach, Yevgeni Bobariko, felt that the foundations for this success had been laid in the summer when the team went to Canada for a series of exhibition matches. But he was wary of looking too far ahead in this tournament. “It’s still only one game,” he said. “There were lots of things to work on out there. We can’t talk about the semi-finals now, there are two more group games and nothing is decided yet.”
The visitor had shooting chances, but rarely managed to create a clear look at Farkhutdinova’s net.
Then, in the 33rd minute, Russia extended its lead on the power play. Yelena Provorova’s shot from the blue line was charged down in the deep slot, where Beloglazova reacted sharply to turn and fire home the second goal of the game. Polina Luchnikova thought she had added a third close to the intermission when she rattled an effort against the base of the post, but the video review ruled that the puck did not cross the line.
Captain Sarah Fillier put Canada right back in the game at the start of the third period. She beat Farkhutdinova with a wrist shot from close range, converting a power play chance and setting up an anxious finale for the home fans. After the fervent response to Russia’s goals, the crowd fell so quiet that the cheers of the Canadian bench were clearly audible as Fillier celebrated her team’s lifeline.
Russia soon restored its two-goal advantage with a power play goal of its own. The host camped out in the Canadian zone and eventually Maria Lobur was able to force the puck across the face of goal where Bratisheva was waiting to turn it into the empty net. However, it wasn’t long before relief was replaced by more nerves when MacEachern fired in a shot from the blue line to make it 2-3 just two minutes later.
But it wasn’t enough for Canada, and Russia held on to record an historic victory amid a jubliant reception.