By Michael Kydd
Igor Tuzik is no stranger to international hockey. The long time Russian hockey coach and former professional player is currently in Halifax as the official team leader with the Russian women’s national team.
When asked what has happened to the Russian/Canadian rivalry that was once so prevalent in international ice hockey, Mr. Tuzik responded by stating “those times are now in the past. However, our Russian women’s team must be eager to play the Canadians more often.”
Because the Russian program is young and still developing under Coach Viktor Krutov, the hopes for a Canada – Russia rivalry might have to wait. “We only have six women’s teams in Russia at the present time. It will take some time, but later on we will be able to think more about competition and rivalry,” said Tuzik.
Recently, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation approved a new program that will allow young Russian girls (6-7 years of age) to compete with and against Russian boys. This speaks highly of the willingness to develop a competitive program that will one day be beneficial to the longevity of women’s hockey in Russia and throughout the world.
Tuzik acknowledges Russian women’s hockey still has a long way to go. Unlike North American programs like the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Russia has not yet developed a junior or student ice hockey program at the women’s level.
Nevertheless, Russian goaltender Irina Gashennikova feels that playing more to the Canadian elite and finesse style of game is more adaptive than the American style that is based on strength and power. This could only be learned in a more developed junior program. The irony in her words rings true considering that for many years Canadian officials felt that Canadian hockey should adopt a more European style based on finesse, speed, and skill.
If we are to ever see a Canada – Russia rivalry ever again, it will be because of individuals like Igor Tuzik and Olga Votolovskaya (RIHF) who appreciate the dynamic nature of the game and are building the women’s program in Russia. “People should watch this tournament and recognize it for its creativity. The audience should enjoy the way these players think,” said Tuzik. If you’ve ever watched Russian hockey, you will know what he means.
With a smile on his face, Tuzik was quick to point out the harsh reality of the 2003 World Junior Championships when Russia defeated Canada; however, he also mentioned that a rivalry would always exist between both countries in ice hockey because of their wonderful respect for each other and the fact that women’s hockey is growing into a popular and well recognized international sport.
With a smile on my face, I shot back with 1972, 1987, and 1991. I’m sure he looks forward to seeing the day when a Russian women’s player scores with a few minutes remaining to defeat the Canadians to win the World Women’s Championship. It would be great for women’s hockey and the rivalry we all know as Canada vs. Russia.