International Ice Hockey Federation

Vafina sees bright side

Vafina sees bright side

This Russian knows Canada well

Published 29.03.2016 21:45 GMT-7 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Vafina sees bright side
KAMLOOPS, BC - MARCH 28: Russia's Alexandra Vafina #9 looks on as the puck gets behind Finland's Meeri Raisanen #18 during preliminary round action at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Ask Alexandra Vafina for advice on how to succeed against the North American women’s hockey titans, and the Russian forward doesn’t hesitate.

“We need to keep going and do the best we can,” Vafina told reporters after Russia’s opening 5-3 loss to Finland on Monday. “The level of the United States and Canada is really high. Playing against them is a great opportunity for us to learn and just do our best. Don’t change anything. Don’t look for the puck wherever it is. Try to make good breakout passes. Put the puck deep in the zone. If you can shoot, shoot. We’ll just keep doing the same things that we’re used to doing.”

Why is Vafina’s English so fluent? And why does the outgoing 25-year-old have such a clear picture of what needs to be done on Tuesday night versus host Canada? After all, she was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan and considers the Russian city of Chelyabinsk – the birthplace of Soviet superstar Sergei Makarov – to be her hometown.

It’s not so hard to understand when you consider that she’s suited up for the University of Calgary Dinos for the last two seasons. This year, Vafina had 14 goals and 21 assists.

The Russian arts major was recruited by head coach Danielle Goyette, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time World Champion. One of the greatest Canadian forwards of all time, Goyette was a 2013 IIHF Hall of Fame inductee.

“Sometimes when we scrimmage she plays with us and she’s pretty good,” Vafina said of Goyette. “She’s in good shape for sure.”

Vafina’s transition to North American life was also eased by the 2012-13 season she spent with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. And with the Dinos, she’s enjoyed the company of fellow Russian star Iya Gavrilova. They were both on the squad that won bronze at the 2013 Women’s Worlds in Ottawa.

The Canadian players Vafina knows best are blueliner Bridgette Lacquette, a former teammate in Minnesota, and the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser, a onetime member of the Dinos.

Playing in her seventh Women’s Worlds, Vafina has seen big, pro-Canada crowds before. The deafening support for Canada at the Sandman Centre on Tuesday night is an obstacle she and her teammates will have to overcome.

“It’s going to be fun, hopefully,” Vafina said. “We can help our younger girls to take care of their stress.”

The Canada-Russia rivalry that has blazed so brightly in men’s hockey since the 1950’s does not exist in women’s hockey. The Russians have never scored a goal against Canada in two Olympic losses, and have never scored more than one in seven Women’s Worlds defeats. So they are huge underdogs.

Yet Vafina isn't fazed.

“Everyone is going to cheer for Canada, but it’s OK,” she said calmly. “We just need to concentrate on playing inside the glass. It’s fine.”

When you put it that way, it sounds entirely reasonable. Talk about looking on the bright side.


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