Russia didn't get involved in international women's hockey until 1994, so it’s not really surprising that it hasn’t had any major success yet. Russia’s best showing ever was a third-place finish at the 2001 IIHF World Women's Championship, where it shocked many by upsetting Finland 2-1 in the bronze medal game. Other than that, the Russians haven’t finished higher than fifth at a World Championship (2000, 2004) or Olympics (2002). Offensive and defensive woes, not to mention inconsistent goaltending, have put this team in an awkward position. While in some games they may appear to be ready to compete with the likes of Finland and Sweden, at other times it is difficult to believe that they currently sit sixth in the IIHF Women’s World Rankings. Russia’s back-to-back 2-1 losses to Germany and Kazakhstan in its last two games of the 2005 World Championship perfectly illustrated this inconsistent tendency. A slightly revamped roster should have the Russians feeling hopeful about their chances in Winnipeg, but it will take more than a few newcomers to get them to the next level.
Coaching: Vladimir Kucherenko, a former Team USSR defenseman, is entering his first IIHF Women’s World Championship as head coach. Taking over from former Head Coach Viktor Krutov, Kucherenko and his assistant coach, Sergey Goloshumov, are looking to improve Russia’s showing on the international stage. Krutov led Russia to a fifth-place finish in 2004 and eighth place in 2005 before being replaced by Kucherenko. The 52-year-old Kucherenko is relatively unknown as a coach, but general manager Igor Prusov, who is entering his second World Championship, should help him keep the ship steady.
Goal: Russia ranked last in save percentage and had the second-worst GAA at the 2005 tournament in Sweden, so an improvement in net is a must for this team. Moscow Tornado teammates Irina Gachennikova and Maria Onolbaeva will both be looking to give Russia some consistency between the pipes. Gachennikova brings considerably more experience, dating back to the 1997 Worlds, and posted a 2.70 GAA and two wins in five games at the Turin Olympics. The 28-year-old Onolbaeva shouldered the load in 2005: in five games played, she allowed 13 goals on 102 shots, and ranked eighth amongst goaltenders with an .887 save percentage.
Defence: Of the eight defencemen on Russia’s roster, six are Moscow Tornado teammates. As most of these women play together regularly, Russia’s young defence should be fairly cohesive, and communication shouldn’t be a problem. Olga Permyakova led all Russian blueliners with two points in 2005, and the 24-year-old will need to chip in offensively this time too. At the ’06 Olympics, no Russian defenceman had more than one point.
Forward: Just as the Russians have struggled on defence and between the pipes in years past, the offence has also been very inconsistent. In the past two World Championships, they’ve averaged a little more than one goal per game, which just won’t get it done against the likes of Canada and the USA. There’s no individual Russian forward this year who can match Ekaterina Pashkevich in her prime. However, Svetlana Trefilova led the Russian attack with four goals in Turin, and the 33-year-old will be viewed as a go-to player and leader again in Winnipeg. Youngsters like Olga Semenets (19) and Ekaterina Smolina (16) will need to provide good energy.
Projected Results: Until the Russians prove they can be a little more consistent at both ends of the ice, they’ll continue to struggle. Scoring early and often is the only way Russia will conceivably have a hope of knocking off the likes of Sweden or Finland, and their forwards just don’t have the firepower to do that. Finishing anywhere from fifth to seventh is most likely in the cards for this team.