Russia to Launch New Women’s Hockey League

Things are changing fast in Russia, just 6 years after the creation of the KHL another big change is coming soon to shake things up for the Mother Land. The results in women’s hockey at the home Olympics, with the Ladies team getting defeated on the quarterfinals by Team Switzerland, were disappointing, but it probably wasn’t this the main locomotive behind change, as some time ago the Russian Hockey Federation (the FHR) and the Russian Ministery of Sport decided to invest in a brand new women league. Even the KHL had a similar idea, with its president Alexander Medvedev talking about the creation of a “KHL-Girls” project, but it was just an idea.

The new league, for now, won’t be a copy of the KHL, which now features teams from seven European countries, but will include only teams from Russia. For now. The FHR already set down negotiation for including a team from Belarus and a team from Kazakhstan, but if the negotiations will be successful, most likely the new teams will be joining the new Russian Women League just for the 2015-16 season. For stats maniacs, Kazakhstan actually already took part to the Russian championship, sending its national team for three seasons, from 1996 to 1998.

So, to get more in detail. The new league will include 10 teams from 9 cities: Tornado Moscow Region, SKIF Nizhni Novgorod, Agidel Ufa, Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, Dynamo Saint Petersburg, Belye Medveditsi (White Bears) Chelyabinsk, Kometa Mozhaysk, Arktik-Universitet Ukhta, Spartak-Mercury Yekaterinburg, and SKIF-2 Nizhni Novgorod. Four of these teams are actually patroned by KHL or VHL teams in their city (Agidel Ufa, Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, White Bears Chelyabinsk and Dynamo St. Petersburg). Each team won’t be able to ice more than three foreign players, and the FHR is thinking about not allowing foreign goalkeepers starting from the 2015-16 season.

The first scope of the creation of the new league is the popularization of women hockey. The sport is growing in all over the world and Russia is no exception. During the last few years Russian teams were able to expand and get some good money to attract good foreign players. The top Russian teams actually had foreigners from the United States, Canada, Finland, and Sweden. Sara O’Tool from Burton, NB, Canada, spent three years in Ufa playing for Agidel before to retire, while Kelley Steadman from Plattsburgh, New York, played last year for Tornado. But the Russian teams can also boast some local stars like forward Iya Gavrilova, who spent three years in North America, playing college hockey for Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and in the Western Women’s Hockey League with the Minnesota Whitecaps. Alexandra Vafina also played for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The top Russian teams play at a fair high level, and a Russian team (Tornado) won the latest two editions of the IIHF European’s Women Champions Cup, the top European competition for women’s hockey clubs. Russian teams, actually are dominating the league since 2008: the latest six editions have been won by Russian teams with the exception of 2011, when Ilves Tampere won the final round over SKIF Nizhny Novgorod, Switzerland’s HC Lugano, and Kazakhstan’s Aisulu Almaty.

And who will manage this new league? No less than three-time NHL All-Star, former New York Islanders captain Alexei Yashin. Yashin is not new to women’s hockey, since he serves as General Manager for the Russian ladies’ national team since last season, when Team Russia won the bronze medal at the WC in Ottawa, Ontario.

Established in 1995, the Russian Women Hockey League had a maximum of 11 teams in the 2013-14 season. The team from Tyumen had to interrupt its participation due to lack of funding.

With files from Evgeny Belousov, FHR