Canada drops final to Russia, settles for silver

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan (U SPORTS) – The Canadian women’s hockey team dropped a 4-1 decision to Russia on Monday in the gold-medal final of the Universiade tournament. While it’s not the outcome the U SPORTS all-stars were hoping for, the result still gave the red and white delegation its first medal of the 28th FISU Winter Games.

Canada settled for silver against Russia for the second straight Universiade. The Russians had prevailed 3-0 in the 2015 title match in Granada, Spain. The U SPORTS standouts had previously won gold at each of the first three FISU tournaments in 2009 (Harbin, China), 2011 (Erzurum, Turkey) and 2013 (Trentino, Italy).

Special teams were the big story in Monday night’s contest. The Canadians went a stunning 0-for-14 on the power play – including almost eight minutes of 5-on-3 – while their opponents capitalized on two of their six opportunities with the man advantage.

Kelty Apperson, a St. Thomas University forward from New Hamburg, Ont., scored Canada’s lone goal at 11:12 of the second period to make it a 2-1 affair but the Russians restored their two-goal lead four minutes later, courtesy of team captain Olga Sosina, a two-time Olympian who scored twice and added one assist.

The powerful Russian roster boasted seven members of the country’s 2014 Olympic team, including current University of Calgary forward Alexandra Vafina.

“We just couldn’t bury the puck today. We had lots of opportunities to get it deep and put it in the net but we just couldn’t do that today. A lot of missed opportunities for sure,” said Apperson, an assistant captain who finished the five-game tournament with three goals and seven points. “They played a strong defensive system. They were very aggressive on the PK.”

Making her third start in Almaty, University of Guelph netminder Valerie Lamenta of Montreal turned aside 32 pucks as Canada was outshot 36-26. Jaycee Magwood, a University of Regina forward from Killarney, Man., had the only assist on Apperson’s marker.

The game was played in front of a pro-Russia, standing-room only crowd of over 5,000 at Baluan Sholak Arena.

“We need to congratulate Russia for an excellent game. They played extremely well. Their goalie kept them in the game early on when I thought we were putting some good pressure on them,” said Team Canada head coach Rachel Flanagan from the University of Guelph. “It was a tough environment to play in. We knew what to expect and were prepared for it. But it was still very hard to communicate on the ice and on the bench. I’m sure it was hard for Russia as well.

“I’m very proud of our girls. They played very well this week. Tonight, they left everything on the ice, they battled until the very last second.”

Team captain Katelyn Gosling and forward Mélodie Bouchard were also proud of the team’s effort despite the disappointing outcome.

“Losing always stings. We were going out there for gold. It’s not the outcome we were looking for but I’m still very proud of every girl in that room and of the coaching staff,” said Gosling, a defenceman from London, Ont., who was one of two returning players from the 2015 Universiade, along with forward Daley Oddy. “We had a great tournament. We can hold our heads high for everything we’ve accomplished this week. Russia put up a good game. Hats off to them.”

“Obviously power play was a big factor. We must have had around 30 minutes of power play in the game. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, we worked hard all game, we just missed too many opportunities,” added Bouchard, a University of Ottawa student from Sept-Îles, Que., who ended the tourney with five goals and eight points. “I’m still proud to have won a medal. But the thing I’m most proud of was to win it with those girls.”

Team Canada’s speed caused the Russians problems early on, forcing the now two-time champions to take three penalties in the first six minutes of the game. The Canadians couldn’t capitalize despite one minute and 38 seconds with two skaters up.

Russia opened the scoring at 11:45 on the power play when Sosina entered the offensive zone with speed and fired a lethal wrist shot just under the crossbar.

The talented Russian captain was at it again seven minutes later, at 18:23, this time serving a perfect pass in the crease to Liudmila Belyakova, who beat Lamenta through the five-hole.

Canada had a chance to cut the deficit in half eight minutes into the middle frame, while the teams were skating four-on-four. On a two-on-one, Magwood elected to shoot but goaltender Maria Sorokina made a nice stick save.

Apperson finally put Canada on the board three minutes later on a similar play, keeping the puck on a two-on-one and beating Sorokina with a quick shot along the ice.

The celebrations were short lived however as Sosina made it 3-1 at 15:55 with a shot from the left circle that fooled Lamenta on the short side.

The Canadians had multiple opportunities to get back in the game late in the second period as the Russians were called for four infractions in the final four minutes. Their power play woes continued however, despite playing 5-on-3 for the last two minutes before the intermission.

Canada’s best chance came with 1:27 left when Erica Rieder hit the right post on a one-timer.

It was more of the same in the third, with four Russian minor penalties in the first six minutes – including a two-minute Canadian 5-on-3 – and seven in the stanza.

Russia only had two power plays in the final 20 minutes and made one of them count. Alevtina Shtareva all but put the game out of reach at 11:08 when she pushed in her own rebound for her fourth goal of the tournament.

Desperately looking for an offensive spark, Flanagan pulled her goalie with 2:40 remaining when Russia took simultaneous high-sticking penalties, to no avail.

NOTES: Despite being kept off the scoresheet on Monday night, Alexandra Labelle, a University of Montreal forward from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que., led the tournament in both goals (9) and points (13) in five games… Three of her Canadian teammates tied for six in scoring with eight points apiece, including Bouchard (5-3-8), Daley Oddy of Cranbrook, B.C. (2-6-8) and Alanna Sharman of Winnipeg (1-7-8).

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