In Winnipeg, the Kazakhs will try to build on what they accomplished at the 2005 IIHF Women’s World Championship. In their final game, they recorded their first-ever win at the tournament, a 2-1 shootout victory over Russia that gave them seventh place. Currently ninth in the IIHF World Rankings, Kazakhstan first assembled a national team in 1992, and it has less than 100 registered players to choose from. However, they built up their confidence by defending their championship title at the 6th Asian Winter Games in February. Also, Aisulu, the Almaty-based club from which almost all national team players hail, finished second behind Moscow Tornado in Group D qualifying play for the European Women’s Championship Cup in December 2006. If Kazakhstan continues to improve at the 2007 Worlds, it will no doubt pique the interest of more young female hockey players back home.
Coaching: Sergey Solovyev will be taking over duties from Alexandr Maltsev, who now slides into the General Manager position. Solovyev previously served as the Kazakh team leader, while Maltsev was behind the bench for Team Kazakhstan in the 20 Women’s Worlds, as well as the 2002 Olympics.
Goal: Even if Kazakhstan wins a game or two at this tournament, neither of its goalies will be old enough to celebrate with champagne. Kazakhstan has the youngest netminder in the tournament, and its goalie with past World Championship experience is the second-youngest. Yekaterina Ryzhova, 17, played two games for the Kazakhs in 2005, but mostly in relief work. Darya Obydennov, 16, will be making her IIHF tournament debut. This duo will look to continue in the tradition of Natalya Trunova, who was named a tournament all-star in 2005, and made 59 saves versus Canada in a 13-0 Preliminary Round loss. But goaltending might end up being an area that opponents exploit.
Defence: There are four returning blueliners from the 2005 squad. Tatyana Shtelmaister and Albina Suprun will pull on the blue-and-yellow jersey for a second time, while Viktoriya Sazonova will be making her third trip to the Worlds and Galina Shu (formerly Zyatkova) her second. Sazonova recorded one assist at the 2002 Olympics, and Shu did the same at the ’05 Worlds in Sweden. Evidently, there won’t be a ton of offensive chances generated from the back end.
Forward: Eight out of 12 forwards are returnees from 2005. The 30-year-old Olga Potapova, participating in her third World Championship, will be relied upon to provide some of the offensive punch that Team Kazakhstan has lacked in past tournaments. In 2005, Potapova accounted for half of the Kazakhs’ four goals, and also scored the shootout winner against Russia. There’s some tender youth up front as well: Xeniya Yelfimova is the biggest player on the team at 5-7 and 176 pounds at age 16, and Yuliya Chernukhina is just 15 years old.
Projected Results: Team Kazakhstan will aim to make it through to Group 2 in the Playoff Round (by finishing second in Group A in the Preliminary Round) and see what happens. That’s not a totally impossible objective. After all, the Kazakhs are coming off that gold medal at the Asian Winter Games in China, and recorded a 3-1 win over the host nation there. So winning their April 4 matchup with China is a must if they want to advance and finish in sixth place or better. The key is to avoid the Relegation Round, where the last-place finisher will be sent down to Division I.