The opening event of the 2018 Week of Hockey Stars, the second Women's Hockey League All-Star Game in history, took place in Astana today, and after a dazzling pre-match build-up, a Master Show and dance-off in the intervals, and a superb game of hockey the women from the Eastern Conference emerged victorious. The result was sweet revenge for the first ever event in Ufa last year, when the Western women shut out the East and won 4-0.
One of the main themes of the Astana Week of Hockey Stars is space travel, as it was in this part of the world, the nearby Space City in Kazakhstan, that mankind launched the first artificial satellites and space rockets, and so began the conquest of the cosmos. And a pioneering legend of space travel featured in the glittering pre-match show.
As anticipation of the WHL All-Star Game was building, on the mediacube screen appeared Svetlana Savitskaya, the first woman cosmonaut to make the journey into space. She spoke about her long journey to the stars and stardom, and how she kept her precious goal in sight as she overcame all the obstacles on the way, and how determined she had been to show that women are capable of anything. Following those stirring words, the women from the seven clubs in the WHL took to the ice.
Then came the official words of welcome to the spectators and TV viewers, delivered by Kazakhstan Minister of Culture and Sports Arystanbek Mukhamediuly and KHL Hockey Operations Vice-President Georgy Kobylansky. The two VIPs then took part in the ceremonial face-off and the WHL All-Star Game was underway.
In the first period, the Team East women siezed the initiative, opened the scoring when Valeria Pavlova in 1-on-1 got the better of goalie Nadezhda Aleksandrova, and doubled their advantage a little over three minutes later in emphatic fashion when Ekaterina Lebedeva roofed a shot from a tight angle. In the second period, however, the Team West women mounted a dramatic comeback, spearheaded by Dynamo Saint Petersburg's Diana Kanayeva, first sending a low shot under goalie Anna Prugova, and then in powerplay providing an assist to Nina Pirogova who gratefully leveled the score.
The All-Star Game-winner arrived in the 33rd minute, and it came from Agidel danger woman Olga Sosina, captain of the East and top sniper and point-scorer of the current WHL season. Nadezhda Aleksandrova had just made way for Valeria Merkusheva in the Team West goal, but Sosina was not to be denied. Victory for the East!
The drama did not stop in the intervals. A new innovation this year was a slimmed-down version of the Master Show. The event comprised a Fastest Skater contest, won by Agidel forward Alexandra Vafina, a graduate of the Kazakhstan hockey school, with a circuit time of 12.761 seconds, and a Most Effective Shootout Effort, which was a win for Olga Sosina – gaining an individual triumph to go with her team's victroy. She conjured up a spinorama with an attempt at a scoop-and-score. The effort failed to produce a oal, but was recognized as the best.
There was a real surprise in store during the second interval - a dance-off, with the women from the West showing their moves to music by Russian songstress Olga Buzova, while the women from the East delighted the audience with some robotics performed to Kazakh music.
The competitive spirit among the fans even spread to talk of which team had the better outfits, but after much debate, there was still no clear consensus over the winner.
Agidel and Team East forward Olga Sosina:
- The match was excellent and we enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was pleased that they added some Master Show contests. I was realy happy I could produce a beautiful shootout attempt – I often do them in training, and I am always hoping for a chance to try one in an actual game. And what an opportunity this is!
The atmosphere in the team was great. We kept practicing our dance moves in the intervals, and that was a lot offun and good for team spirit. We didn't have any thoughts about revenge at all. We went out onto the ice to enjoy our hockey, and the feelings we have from the victory are only positive ones. It's always nice to win!
Agidel boss Denis Afinogenov, head coach of Team East:
- The team hit the ground running and was in winning mood from the first minute to the final siren. We built a 2-0 lead, but made mistakes in the second period. Olga Sosina scored a fine goal and after that we managed to hold on to our advantage. There were scoring chances for both teams, and this kept the result in doubt right until the very end.
The atmosphere in the arena was both serious and festive. The girls managed to have some fun and dance a little, but they kept the desire to prove their mastery in the match. The Master Show during the intervals added to the interest, and the crowd enjoyed the Fastest Skater and Shootout. For next year, I would suggest that they add a Hardest Shot contest, as I'm sure the women would surprise a few people!