Heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the Russian women’s team wanted to have a strong finish at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds. As the host country in 2014, the defeat of Finland in the bronze medal game brings with it remarkable momentum.
Born in 1972, Yekaterina Pashkevich was the oldest player competing at the IIHF Women’s Worlds. The opportunity to help the Russians win a bronze was a cherished one for her. “It is incredible," she said. "I cannot believe what is happening now. With Sochi down the road, I am so excited. Our goalie stood on her head.”
With a background in soccer, Pashkevich had temporarily retired from hockey. The bronze was the perfect way to commemorate her return to the sport of hockey. “I came back to get a medal around my neck (she says smiling). I am hoping to get one at Sochi,” she said.
Iya Gavrilova, one of the top forwards for the Russian team, was greeted and hugged by Canadian assistant coach Danielle Goyette after the bronze medal win. Of note, Goyette coaches Gavrilova for the Calgary Dinos of the CIS (where the two won the 2012 CIS National Title).
“I am happy, so happy! This means a lot to us and I am excited. We worked so hard for it. We are moving in the right direction. The team came together and we play for each other,” Gavrilova said.
When asked if the bronze medal win brought confidence for Russia heading into Sochi, Gavrilova stated, “I think so. We are trying to build a winning mentality for our team. This brings more confidence.”
For Russian general manager Alexei Yashin, the bronze medal was an important step. “It is important that we understand we can play against the top teams," he said. "We see the results of our work. We believe we can do it and there is a much better attitude for the Olympics. We know what we need to do to be better.”
Having logged a shutout against Finland’s Noora Raty in the bronze medal game, Nadezhda Alexandrova was ecstatic. She would also win the IIHF Directorate Award as Top Goaltender for the tournament.
“This is actually my greatest moment. Everybody did well on our team. They did their best and I tried my best as well. The bronze was the final result,” Alexandrova said.
In the semifinal contest against Canada (which was the 250th game of Jayna Hefford’s career), Anna Prugova was named the starting goaltender for Russia. Having lost to the Canadian squad, Alexandrova was asked if it was hard to have to sit out that contest.
“I wanted to take part in that game against Canada," she said. "It was the coach’s decision and it was a wise one. He saved me for this game and I earned a shutout."
One of the youngest players on the Russian contingent, 18-year-old Anna Shibanova would emerge as the hero of the game. The defender logged the game winning tally in the visceral match against Finland. In addition, it was her first goal of the tournament.
“It was my first goal in the World Championships and it was crucial in this game," she said. "I was proud and honored to score at the World Championships. My first one happened in such a crucial moment.”
With a bronze medal for her efforts, Shibanova also remarked, “This bronze is actually more important than the gold for us. A loss would have been worse. This year, we prepared not just for the World Championships but for Sochi. Actually, all our training camps for this tournament are tied into Sochi. This is the most important win.”
As the Russian men’s team is considered one of the finest in the world, Pashkevich felt it was important for the women’s team to perform well. “I would not call it pressure," she said. "We have one of the greatest GM’s in Alexei Yashin. We had to give something back, mostly trust.”
With the score 0-0 against Finland after two periods, Pashkevich addressed the feelings in the locker room. “We have been in training camp since March," she said. "We worked so hard, and with all the work we put in, we had 20 minutes to go. We cannot walk off by not working hard enough. We wanted to leave everything out there.”
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated.