Team ROC 5 Switzerland 2 (2-1, 2-1, 1-0)
The ROC camp was hit by a rash of positive COVID tests on arrival in Beijing. Six players — including the vastly experienced Olga Sosina and Lyudmila Belyakova — were sent into isolation. Their team-mates were labelled ‘close contacts’ and subject to a tougher regime, preventing them from practicing as planned.
In Friday’s opening game, head coach Evgeny Bobariko admitted that he had to deploy forwards on defense at times due to being short-benched — but Bolgareva’s clinical finishing ensured the Russians got the verdict.
The opening stages of this game were nip-and-tuck. Twice, team ROC got ahead only for the Swiss to tie it up. Ekaterina Dobrodeyeva opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but Lara Stadler levelled late in the first period. Parity lasted a mere 13 seconds, though, before Bolgareva potted her first of the game. In the middle session, Alina Muller tied the scores once more but at the midway point Anna Shibanova made it 3-2 and the girls never looked back.
Goalie Maria Sorokina identified that as the key moment, psychologically, and Bolgareva went on to score two more and seal the victory.
The hat-trick hero was quick to pay tribute to her team-mates. “They did it all for me,” she said. “They gave me perfect passes, I was just lucky.”
Sorokina, meanwhile, believes that the tough situation facing the team in Beijing helped make the players stronger.
“If you make life difficult for a Russian, it just makes us stronger,” she said. “We don’t like to take it easy. Our strength and will is forged in adversity. It’s not big deal, we just get on with it.”
Friday morning also saw Team China get its first win at the Games. On Thursday, the host nation went down 1-3 against Czechia, with Li Me (Hannah Miller) getting the only goal. Today, against Denmark, the Dragons won by the same scoreline thanks to two goals in the last minute.
The Danes, appearing at their first Olympics, took the lead early in the first period. However, China played strongly throughout and deservedly tied the game late in the second thanks to Li Qiqi (Leah Lum). Then, in the last minute, a stumble from Denmark’s captain presented Lin Ni (Rachel Llanes) with the chance to snatch the winner with just 50 seconds left on the clock. Li Qiqi added an empty net goal, boosting China’s hopes of making the quarter final.
Team captain Yu Baiwei, one of three players who represented China in Vancouver 12 years ago, was thrilled by the outcome.
“When that [winning] goal went in, I don’t know how to say it. I was so excited that I jumped out of my skin. It was pure joy and I felt so lucky.”
Team ROC and Team China draw their rosters entirely from Russia’s Women’s Hockey League. Several other players at the Games also play in the league, and two of them went head-to-head in Thursday’s late game between the USA and Finland. The Americans won it 5-2, with former KRS Vanke Rays forward Alex Carpenter scoring twice. Susanna Tapani, who is joining the Vanke Rays at the end of the Olympics, got both Finnish goals.
Team ROC is back in action on Saturday when it faces defending champion USA in the late game. China plays Japan on Sunday lunchtime in Beijing. Before that, two WHL players will be carrying their countries’ flags at Friday’s Opening Ceremony. Alena Mills, who has played for Agidel and KRS, will do the honors for Czechia; Vanke Rays’ new Swedish forward Emma Nordin will also fly the flag at this evening’s event.