Once again: 2020 was tough. Coronavirus impacted on every part of our lives, including sport. In the spring, every one of Europe’s major hockey championships came to an abrupt halt.
Russia was no exception. In the KHL, VHL and JHL, the competitions reached the playoff stage but by the middle of March it was clear that nobody could play on. Only the Women’s Hockey League was lucky enough to play to the end — helped, of course, by the fact that our playoffs are shorter and started earlier. Thus, our league was the only major professional tournament in Russia that concluded its 2019-2020 season and hailed a new champion.
And that champion was new in every sense. For the first time in the five-year history of the WHL, the top prize went to a foreign team — China’s KRS Vanke Rays. And that was during the Dragons’ first season in our league.
KRS Vanke Rays were flawless in the playoffs, winning five games out of five. In the final, Kunlun swept Agidel, champion for the previous two years, 3-0, despite playing all three games in Ufa. All three games were tight, with the team from Bashkortostan never losing by more than two goals. The game-winning, series-clinching goal in the third match-up went to Alex Carpenter, who was one of the brightest stars of the entire season. In November she received the prize for the MVP of 2019-2020.
Thanks to our partnership with Mastercard, we have a good tradition of special games between the WHL’s top players and scratch teams of showbiz stars. The first of these events took place on Jan. 13, beneath the Kremlin walls in Moscow’s Red Star. The celebrity all-star team combined hockey legends such as Alexei Yashin, Andrei Nikolishin and Alexander Guskov with celebrities from a number of spheres. A hard-fought game ended in a 3-3 tie.
Just before New Year, the Priceless game was back in Red Square. On Dec. 22, Alexei Yashin added Alexei Kopeikin and Alexei Morozov to the All-Stars and was rewarded with a 6-3 victory. We’re already looking forward to the next game in the series, when the WHL stars will be out for revenge.
In the spring, there were several reports of financial problems in Bashkortostan and rumors that two-time WHL champion Agidel Ufa might fold. However, there was a swift response from the press staff at Salavat Yulaev confirming that there was no question of closing down the women’s team.
Then in the summer, Alexander Kurnosov, Director General of the Ufa club put everyone’s mind at rest: “For about three years now, we have not relied on funding from Rosneft or Bashneft, but from a fund targeted on social programs. None of our teams — neither Salavat Yulaev, Tolpar, nor Agidel — are under threat. All three clubs have guarantees from the fund. Yes, we face some funding costs, but this has no impact on the flagship teams in our system.”
In the current season, Agidel continues to rank among the league leaders. At the turn of the year, Agidel had 11 wins from 14 games and looks certain to be a contender for the championship at the end of the season.
There was another worrying story from St. Petersburg, where women’s hockey faced its own challenges. In 2019-2020, the city had two teams in the Northern Capital — Dynamo and Gorny. However, while the season was still in progress there were discussions about liquidating Dynamo and two days before the start of the current campaign Gorny informed the WHL that it could not compete in the upcoming tournament.
However, we managed to find a way out. Before the start of the regular season, the Petersburg authorities suggested an alternative, creating a new team, Dynamo Neva, with the support of the ‘New Generation’ fund. The new club is part of the Dynamo St. Petersburg structure — already known for its team in the men’s VHL — but enjoys a separate legal status. You can read more about women’s hockey in Petersburg here.
Dynamo Neva’s first campaign is going well, with the team in contention for a playoff place. But the most important thing is not results, but the fact that women’s hockey continues in Russia’s second city.