Big win on home ice: the Boston Pride sink their teeth into Team Russia

Saturday night, the Boston Pride met the Russian national team for the Pride’s second pre-season outing and the first of Team Russia’s series against the NWHL. After a close game against Boston College on Thursday night, the Pride returned to the ice to win a 5-1 victory over Russia. Yet this was no easy contest—the Pride pulled off a definitive win against a team that led in puck possession and shots on goal (24-18), and without co-captain Hilary Knight.

Captain Brianna Decker led the team in goals, scoring two at even strength. Like her fellow US national team members, she had spent the past week at a training camp at Warrior Arena. “Today was pretty tough, actually, ” she said. “Once we got our feet under us, we were moving the puck really well… my legs weren’t feeling good in the first period.” Any fatigue didn’t show on the ice. Meghan Duggan netted the first goal of the game in the first period, follow by goals from Decker, Alex Carpenter (on power play), and Kacey Bellamy, who scored right out of the penalty box.

Team Russia didn’t skate like they were two days off an international plane flight, either. They outshot the Pride 24-18, with 4 of those shots coming from former Connecticut Whale player Ekaterina Smolentseva. While they suffered in defense, Russia kept pace with the Pride offensively, which is rare to see from any of the Pride’s opponents. “Today I really noticed they read each other very well,” said Bellamy of the team’s offense. “They don’t have to necessarily look where they’re giving it. They can backhand across ice and their teammate will be there. Very deceptive with the puck, and they’re not going a million miles an hour, they’re just moving the puck exactly where they needed to. But it was good for us to see that kind of pressure and that kind of offense.” Notably absent from the Russian team were former New York Riveter Liudmila Belyakova and assistant captain Iya Gavrillova, who was selected in the third round of the 2016 CWHL draft by the Calgary Inferno.

Ultimately, the Pride’s defensive skill and solid netminding from Lauren Slebodnick and Brittany Ott (who split time in goal) proved decisive in the team’s first game—and first win—at their new home rink. “It’s an amazing facility, the ice is great,” said Carpenter. Duggan added, “It’s a fantastic facility. Obviously, the Bruins have welcomed us with open arms here. It’s state of the art. Locker rooms are great, ice surface is great, it’s beautiful.”

From what I saw on Saturday, these things are all true. Aesthetically, Warrior is certainly an upgrade from Harvard. However, the most notable change is seating capacity: the Bright-Landry seated approximately 3,000 people, whereas the Warrior Arena seats only 650. This will no doubt be a crunch for fans, but that may be an incentive for the NWHL—the fuller the stands, the more appealing games will be for TV and streaming deals. Even at this pre-season game, there were a few hundred spectators. Sold-out games are in the Pride’s future.

Mid-Week Link Round Up: Still mostly people being upset about women’s hockey.

I know, I know, very surprising.

  • The Pink Puck did an article about what Noora Räty’s retirement from women’s hockey means for the sport. Now, either you’ve already read this, because it’s been linked from hell and back again, or you skipped it because you went “oh, another annoying article that will either enrage me or make me otherwise upset.If you’re in the later category like I was, I’d encourage you to give it a shot and read it. It’s probably not going to have anything new per se in it, but it does have an attitude I find generally lacking around discussions like this, and that is that women’s hockey is not men’s hockey and shouldn’t ever have to be.Look, I’ve done it too, I’ve joked about how the Wild should get Räty a try-out, because after all we have A Goalie Situation and we love our Gophers– but that doesn’t solve the actual issue, which is that women shouldn’t have to play in men’s leagues to be respected as good players.
  • The Globe and Mail did a profile piece about Shannon Szabados and Carey Price, the starting goaltenders for the Canadian women’s team and the Canadian men’s team respectively, and how they both started out as teenagers trying out for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. It’s not a rare story, but it had some background I hadn’t heard before, including the following from Bob Tory, the Tri-City GM who was responsible for her WHL tryout.

“I’ve had players on my team, boys, named Shannon, so I didn’t know I was watching a girl – and she was outstanding,” Tory recalled. “It was only after the game, when she got selected game star, I knew it was a girl.

  • You’ve probably seen this, because it EXPLODED across Twitter, but the IIHF President Rene Fesel has said women’s hockey will never be removed from the Olympics. Probably won’t shut people up from arguing it should or shouldn’t be, but yanno, that’s the joy of the internet.
  • Clare over at the Puckologist talked about women as invisible sports fans. That’s not just an issue in men’s sports, like the NHL, but is, as Clare points out, generally the first stumbling block to discussing seriously how to market women’s sports.
  • I haven’t seen this anywhere else that’s not sourcing off this, which could be a language barrier thing, or could be something else, but apparently the Finnish National team’s head coach, Mika Pieniniemi, is retiring after just one year in the position. The rest of the recap of the Finland/Russia game is interesting on its own, but what I found interesting was the quote from the Russian head coach, Mikhail Chekhanov, who said:

    “I’m not sure whether it was a back forward or backward, but at least we managed to reshape the team so it can play offensively. We did a step for the future, and we managed to close the gap against teams like Finland and Sweden.”

    I found this interesting because Russia has been the team that, so far, has had the best Corsi besides Canada and the US. We’ve got some plans to run the numbers after the Olympics, see what pops out with more data and analysis and ideally having run some numbers from Worlds, but that in itself is interesting. (How many more times can I say “interesting”, WHO KNOWS)

Olympics Women’s Hockey Recap – Feb 8th & Feb 9th

USA gettin' it done.
USA gettin’ it done.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that Canada and the US have been dominating the women’s hockey tournament so far! Just kidding, literally no one is surprised by this. The games kicked off February 8th, with USA getting a 3-1 win over Finland and Canada sending Switzerland packing, 5-0.

Switzerland has very little support for women’s hockey, and oh, does it show. Canada had 69 shots to Switzerland’s 14. That tells a pretty clear story on its own (though after the Olympics, we’ll be doing some statistical breakdowns of games), but it’s worth noting that Switzerland’s biggest problems were very clearly connected to their lack of practice as a cohesive team. In the defensive zone, they collapsed around whoever had the puck, leaving lanes wide open for Canada to pass in – and then score. In the offensive zone, Canada almost never had trouble clearing the puck; Switzerland just didn’t look like they knew what to do. The only bright spot for Switzerland so far has been goaltending Florence Schelling, who posted a .928 SV% for the CAN-SUI game. Not bad, Schelling. Sorry your name lends itself to the obvious, unfortunate pun.

Finland, in contrast, held the US to only 3 goals. Mind you, that first goal game at 0:53 in the first, from Hilary Knight – but overall, Noora Raty had a .930 SV%, and Finland in general had it together more than Switzerland. Finland is a legitimate contender in the sense that they are becoming competitive with the best teams in women’s hockey. Hopefully they’ll continue to develop and serve up an interesting game for the bronze – or even silver.

February 9th was Group B’s turn. Sweden won against Japan 1-0. Nana Fujimoto, the Japanese goaltender, put up an amazing performance against Sweden. Japan actually had a number of decent scoring chances, despite being shut out. They play an organized game that manages quite a bit of possession, considering what a new program they are. Mind, this will probably change once they play Canada or the USA, both of whom are more physical teams than Sweden, but it’s good to see two teams play such a tight game.

Russia – which has thrown support behind women’s hockey, boasting a professional hockey league of largely Russian players – shelled Germany 4-1. Russia has the elusive home ice advantage, if you believe in that kind of thing; at the very least, Russians turned out to support their women’s team in impressive numbers.

Players to watch: countries with less developed women’s hockey programs are bringing it in the goaltending department this tournament. Keep an especially close eye on Noora Raty, who’s playing behind a team that might actually help her carry them beyond bronze.

Hilary Knight has been a dominant presence for the US. On Canada’s side, Wickenheiser doesn’t appear to have rust on her, and Poulin is actually getting minutes, to the surprise of everyone familiar with Dineen. And, finally, Molly Schaus and Jessie Vetter are battling it out for the starting position in the medal games, with US coach Stone not naming a starter yet. That will be interesting to continue to watch.