By David F. Pendrys
NORTHFORD, CT- The Connecticut Whale picked up a victory in their first game of the season defeating Team Russia in exhibition play 3-2 Tuesday night. Former NWHL’er Liudmila Belyakova scored both of Russia’s goals putting her team in a 2-1 lead. But the home squad came back to get the lead and hold it despite Russia out shooting the Whale 29 to 17.
Connecticut scored first in the second period when Molly Engstrom teed up a shot from deep in the zone and it ended up past Russian netminder Maria Sorokina. Meagan Mangene was awarded the goal perhaps on the deflection. Later in the same period Iya Gavrilova fed the puck out in front from behind the net and Belyakova was there to receive it and whisk it by Shenae Lundberg at point blank range.
Also in the period, Anna Shokhina conveyed the puck into the Whale end and passed it off leading to a Russian shot. It bounced off the Whale’s Nicole Stock and Belyakova swooped in to use the scrum to place it on the right side of the goal.
Kelly Babstock picked up the equalizer in the third period. During the power play she received a pass right side of the net and launched it to the roof of the net over Sorokina.
“There was no in front of me so I had to shoot it, or else,” Babstock said post game producing chuckles.
The game winner came during a four on four. Cydney Roesler moved in split two defenders, and shot it off the edge of the net, but it bounced back, hit her skate and careened to Stack in front who drew everyone’s attention. Meanwhile the puck itself ended up on the left side of the net and Roesler poked it in.
“Kelli Stack was there and she kept digging at it and her rebound came to me so it’s the right spot and the right time,” Roesler said. “It’s a goal of mine to contribute more offensively this year than I did in college,” she noted earlier in response to a question from the NWHL’s Andrew Weiss.
Babstock was optimistic about the team’s chances this season. “There’s a lot of skill on the team. A lot of smart players. I think after the first game…we’re figuring out how everyone works and plays with each other. I think we’re going to have a great season this year.”
The Whale and Team Russia will do it all again Thursday night in the same place and same time.
“I bet their just going to go hard. They’re going to have a day of rest. They haven’t had any rest the past couple of days they’re playing a lot of games. I feel we’ve got the first one under our belt as well we’re just going to come out faster, strong, better,” Meagan Mangene said.
Stats are not up yet from the game. Stock and Lundberg shared time, and each saved every shot by one. Sorokina let in 3 presumably saving 14 if the shot count holds up. Stock had a specifically important save on Alevtina Shtareva’s breakaway when it was just her on the keeper and she was denied.
Noticed Plays (A non exhaustive list of plays that might not make the score sheet but may nonetheless be important. This is only what is noticed. A player may have done far far more than is noted of course.)
Kelli Stack had numerous breaks as is to be expected. She also had a short handed try on net during one of the Whale’s several penalties.
Shannon Doyle outmaneuvered an opponent to advance the puck, and later she picked it away from a Russian player so Engstrom could slide in, acquire it and move it out. She also dived to block a shot. She also disrupted another Russian zone entry causing the puck to end up in a teammate’s hands.
Mangene confronted Belyakova and disrupted one of her shot attempts. Also on a PK she cleared the puck to Haley Skarupa who moved it out of their end.
Nicole Kosta continued where she left off at Quinnipiac being in the mix a great deal. She intercepted a pass in the Russian zone allowing the offensive strike to continue. She also stole the puck at mid ice, entered the opposing end, and raced through four defenders in on net. She and former QU teammate Roesler also combined to strip the Russians of the puck in the Whale zone.
Babstock in addition to her goal kept the puck ahead of the blue line to keep pressure going, and at a later point stole it from Team Russia to feed it across for a centering attempt.
Micaela Long was sent to the ice by a Russian penalty, but still advanced the puck while lying down. Later she intercepted an opposing centering pass and cleared it preventing the danger. Her teammate Sam Faber also succeed in passing the puck while lying on the ice during a hectic sequence.
Ivana Bilic had at least on steal in the Russian zone to prolong the effort. Her teammate Dana Trivigno used major speed numerous times to rush in on the opposing keeper including evading multiple defenders at one point to start the set up in the visitor’s end.
Kaliya Johnson disrupted a Russian drive, Juana Baribeau also ended a move on net with a steal. Engstrom herself had snagged a rebound in the Whale zone and advanced it away.
Nina Pirogova blocked at least one shot, and also got in the way of a Whale centering pass. She caused a turnover during a Whale drive, and stole the puck in the defensive zone leading to a clear.
Ekaterina Lobova intercepted the puck at center ice, disrupted a zone entry, and later another got in the way of another knocking the puck to her teammate. Offensively she also prolonged a drive racing to a loose puck to keep the Whale from it.
Olga Sosina intercepted a pass and headed into the Whale area. She also stole the puck in the zone as well later to keep the chance alive.
Iya Gavrilova and Sosina got it out of the Russian zone feeding it up to Belyakova for a scoring chance at one point.
Gavrilova was prolific in addition to her assist including a steal out of her zone, a clear, an intercept of a pass in the middle of the ice, and clearing the puck during a penalty kill.
Former Whale Ekaterina Smolentseva pounced on a loose puck in defensive zone and flew all the way out to start a chance. She also cleared it out to Gavrilova for an opportunity up ice. She intercepted a pass in the middle of the ice and charged at a later point too.
Mariia Batalova intercepted the puck and brought it into the opposing zone several times. Her teammate Elena Podkamennaia cleared it from out of the Russian zone several times including on the power play.
Mariia Batalova deflected the Whale puck to clear it during a PK. The speedy Alexandra Vafina intercepted a pass in the defensive zone.
Anna Shokhina’s steal in her zone not only blunted a Whale office but set up her going down the ice for a shot attempt. She also poked away a zone entry effectively.
Alevtina Shtareva got the puck just out of the penalty box and went in on a break, only to be stopped by Stock.
Elina Mitrofanova cleared it from her zone and also got to a loose puck during a struggle for it in the Whale end keeping her team on the attack. She had a break herself during the action.