International Ice Hockey Federation

Russia aims high

Russia aims high

The host wants better than bronze

Published 05.01.2018 09:00 GMT+4 | Author Andy Potts
Russia aims high
Oxana Bratisheva hopes to win more than bronze at this year's IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship on home ice in Dmitrov. Photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
No European nation has played in the Gold Medal Game at this event. Oxana Bratisheva is out to change all that.

One year ago, Oxana Bratisheva was a key part of Russia’s bronze-medal winning roster in the Czech Republic. Her haul of three goals and one assist made her the top scorer for her country, with her unassisted effort midway through the second period of the quarter-final against the host proving decisive in a 2-0 victory. And all that was achieved despite missing a game through suspension along the way.

Fast forward one year, and Bratisheva is looking forward to leading Russia’s charge on home ice in Dmitrov in the Moscow Region. Last year’s experience brings confidence and responsibility, but she and her teammates are aiming high in the hope of becoming the first European team to contest a gold-medal game at this event.

“This year, we’ve really got stronger,” Bratisheva said. “I think we’re ready to beat not only European teams, but also the North Americans. We’re going out to try to impose our game at every opportunity. If we play our hockey, deliver what our coaches ask of us, we can do anything.”

Success in a recent Four Nations Tournament in Stupino reinforced Russia’s position as Europe’s most promising team, and the experience has Bratisheva and her colleagues hungry for more home ice action.

“The home crowd is a huge support,” she added. “In Stupino recently, the fans really drove us forward every time; they inspired us to score as many as we could, to take our chances. It’s great!”

Bratisheva, who turns 18 in June, is an established player with SKIF Nizhni Novgorod, one of the top clubs in Russia’s Women’s Hockey League. And her domestic and international experience is helping her in the build-up to the coming week of World Championship action.

“Of course, last year gave me enormous experience, playing in a top-level tournament like the World Championship,” she added. “So this time, I think it might be a bit easier for me. It’s easier to get into the right frame of mind, and on the ice I feel more confident.

“But, all the girls who played on the youth team last year carry a greater responsibility. We’ll be trying to help our younger players with the psychological pressures. I guess they’ll all be a bit nervous, perhaps more than usual because we’re playing at home. But we have a great team spirit and I’m sure we will do what we need to do. Everything will be fine.”

Bratisheva and her teammates have matured in an era when women’s hockey has really taken off in Russia. The success of the women’s tournament at the Sochi Olympics four years ago helped turn the game from a curio into a serious part of the country’s sporting ambitions. The rise of the national women’s league, now operating under the aegis of the KHL and due to play a part in that league’s All-Star program in Astana next week, has broadened opportunities at the top of the sport. And, for players like Bratisheva, the girls’ game has developed rapidly over the past four years.

“It goes without saying that we’ve made great progress in this country,” the forward added. “We’ve seen more and more sport schools for girls opening up in different cities all over Russia. Each year, we see more and more girls coming to hockey, there are more women’s tournaments appearing. It’s all having a positive influence on us.”

That’s very different from when Bratisheva herself started, joining her brother at practice in her native Chelyabinsk and competing against the boys because there was no girls’ team to join. But that early experience also has its benefits, as she recalled.

“Starting to play with the boys was maybe even more interesting for me,” she said. “You have to try and match up to them. Sure, they’re a bit quicker on their skates, maybe a bit stronger physically. But that makes you try harder not to be left behind, to play like them.

“If you only play with girls, maybe everyone ends up developing in the same way. It feels like, if you come to women’s hockey after playing with the boys, you’re better prepared because boys have different training schedules.”

 

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