An email interview by Elizabeth ETue with Aleksandra Vafina March 2013.
EE: How old were you and why did you start playing hockey?
AV: I start to play hockey at 9 years old, pretty old for these days and for most American and Canadian girls. My parents suggested me to start play hockey. We lived in a small town in Kazakhstan (Ust-Kamenogorsk) and only hockey was the biggest thing there. I'm glad that parents forced me practice!
EE: What club teams did you play for before coming to USA?
AV: I played for boys and girls in school.
EE: How did club play compare to US college life?
AV: Obviously the college hockey is the best for young girls. That's why I came here to try myself in the best league for women's hockey. (Russian club hockey is not as strong and fast as American hockey)
EE: Why did you choose UMD? I know other Russians have played there.
AV: Yes, my friend Iya Gavrilova played there and she encouraged me to go to UMD. Also, coach Schuler recruited me. I was so glad that the best team in the NCAA wants me. There were no doubts about team. I "fell in love" to what Iya talks about with the bulldogs’ team, what spirit and traditions they have! I was excited to go to Duluth!
EE: Are there any other Russian players in USA? I know about Iya G in Canada.
AV: Not a lot of Russian girls play in USA or Canada. Iya plays in Canada and one more girl Liza Monahova plays in III division in Utica (Finlandia University). I really believe that later more Russian girls will be playing in the US league. Because it is great opportunity to become great hockey player, practice with best coaches and unrepeatable experience.
EE: What do you think Russia’s biggest challenges are in this world championship?
AV: I think the biggest challenge for us would be the first game at the World Championship and also we do not know how the Czech team plays. I think every game will be the biggest challenge.
EE: Will the Russian team centralize in 2013/14 and if so where?
AV: Russian team would not centralize but there would be many camps which as usual would be in Novogorsk (Russian national camp centre) and in Sochi.
EE: Russia has a new coach and no one knows much about him. Can you talk about him and the team reaction?
AV: Everybody is glad about our new coach. He is doing pretty good. He bringsa new atmosphere to us: hope and belief in ourselves. He also knows and believes in us.
EE: Alexei Yashin in the recently appointed Russian manager of the women’s team. Have you met him yet?
AV: Yes I have met Yashin and actually Alexei has been practicing with us some times. He is very good person, he helps us on the ice, shares his experience and gives advice.
EE: Is it challenging being away from your teammates while you play in the US? What are the pros and cons?
AV: Being far away from home this is very challenging, I'm glad that I have opportunity to play with my Russian teammates. When I in the USA and played with my UofMD, Bulldogs teammates I didn't have any difficulties, it is always the game and I play with many players and it is always interesting and challenging.
EE: Has the Russian captain been chosen yet? If yes does she speak English?
AV: Yes our captain has been chosen and a without doubt it is Ekaterina Smolentseva. And she speaks English a little bit. Also, we have assistants who speak English. I think we will not have problems speaking with referees.
On the Russian national team since 2008 and played in the last four World Championships: two and a half years on the Russian U-18 national team.
Season Team League GP G A P PIM +/-
2011/12 Russia World Champ 5 0 0 0 2 -8
2010/11 Russia World Champ 6 2 1 3 4 -3
2009/10 Russia Olympics 5 1 0 1 2 -4
2008/9 Russia World Champ 4 0 1 1 2 -3
2007/8 Russia World Champ 4 0 0 0 2 0
Birth date: July 28, 1990
Birth Location: Almaty, Kazakhstan
Height: 164 cm / 5' 5"
Weight: 57 kg / 126 lbs
Home town: Chelyabinski, Russia
Club team 2012/13 University of Minnesota Duluth. Freshman/1st year.
Position: Forward Shoots: left
Smolentseva is back on the team in 2013 and captain for the 2013 world championship.
Ekaterina Smolentseva was not listed on the roster for the 2012 team playing in the world championship in Vermont, USA.
Email interview with Elizabeth Etue | January 2010. Smolentseva is #17 and Captain of the team. Russian translation by Olga Votolovskayam
Q. When did you start playing and how?
A. My father taught me ice hockey starting in 1990. ( I was 9 years old). My first coach was Kopitov Vladimir Alexandrovich who taught me the basics of hockey. For 3 years I played ringball and in 1993 we changed to ice hockey. In 1995 I was selected for the first training camp of the Russian National team.
Q. What are your most important influences in hockey?
A. What influenced my ice hockey experience is that I constantly from morning till night on the ice or near ice. My native town is small with an outdoor rink. I was watching how the stars of the Russian hockey (bandy) played. I learned how to skate right, how to think on ice, how to play and pass. There was no any ice hockey team so I had to study bandy.
Q. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
A. I think my strengths for the team can be seen on ice and off ice. I try to inspire the girls in the dressing-room. On ice I try to lead by example in the game, score a goal at the right moment. Try to be an example of selfless play to inspire the girls to play. My weakness is the lack of toughness and aggression in the game. I can make mistakes in defence and sometimes can not concentrate at executing penalty shots at a decisive moment.
Q. What was your biggest achievement in hockey?
A. Our biggest achievement was winning a bronze medal at the World Championship in 2001.
Q. How is the 2010 team different from previous teams?
A. This Olympic team differs in age and experience, last Olympics our team had more veterans but I believe we are improving. Now we have many young, talented and bright players.
Q. What could fans do to support you?
A. We do not have many fans usually but I hope to see and feel fan's support in the Olympic palace when the Olympics come to Russia.
Q. Give me an idea of a typical day.
A. For me a typical day is: Wake up at 8:00am. From 10:00–11:30am I am at the gym or doing heavy weights then lunch and 17:00-19:00 hockey practice.
Q. What do you read or watch to inspire you?
A. I often watch the KHL games (K/Continental Hockey League in Russia) I am friends with several players and talk to them. My best friend also plays hockey, he always supports and inspires me.
Q. What is your motivation to keep working so diligently?
A. My parents, husband, my son and my friends are always with me, supporting and cheering for me.
Russian Stats 2009 Worlds
Moscow Tornado Club Team
Seasons Games Goals Assists Points
> 2009 2010 10 23 19 42
> 2008 2009 18 36 32 68
> 2007 2008 21 33 23 56
> 2006 2007 17 20 14 34
> 2005 2006 20 25 20 45
> 2004 2005 24 27 18 45
Member since 1996.
2003-2012 Moscow Tornado.
1994-2003 Spartak Merkury,
Born: September 15, 1981
Height: 1.76 M (5’9”) weight 65 kg (143 lbs)
Kristina Petroyvskaya is not listed on the roster for the 2012 Russian team at the world championship in Vermont, USA.
Elizabeth Etue interview via email. Nov.2009
Q. Most important influence in your hockey experience?
A. My most important influence in my hockey experience is myself, when I was in about 6 years old, I watched ice hockey game on TV. Since then I love hockey. It is my favorite game.
Q. What are your strengths and weaknesses on your team?
A. I think my strength is playmaking, good hands and hustle until the whistle. I never think about weakness, it's a team game everybody make mistakes, we try to help each other in the game.
Q. Favourite hockey experience?
A. 2001 IIHF World Championship in Minnesota 3rd place and Olympic Winter Games.
Q. What is your national teams biggest advantages and challenges?
A. Every year new young players improve their skills, grow up and try to become stronger and compete with the most experience players. The new system of training on and off the ice also improves.
Q. What would you ask your country's fans to do to support the team?
A. I wish that somebody would come to watch our games and support the team!
Q. When did you start playing hockey and who taught you?
A. I started playing hockey since I was 7 years old with boys team. By the time I turned 16 I started playing for the national team. National team since 1996 until now. Club team since 2005 until now.
Q. What is a regular training day for you?
A. We practice every day 2 times a day on and off the ice, 4 hours a day.
Q. Who inspires you in the hockey world?
A. My mom and my friends inspire me, they believe and support me every day.
Q. Have you played for a team anywhere else in the world?
A. I played for University of Minnesota Duluth, USA.
Q. What is your mental motivation to keep working so hard?
A. Of course, the Olympic Winter Games, my dream is to win a medal. I work hard for it.
Moscow Tornado Club Team Stats
Games Goals Assists Points
2009 2010 24 5 19 24
2008 2009 12 2 3 5
2007 2008 21 5 14 19
2006 2007 16 0 4 4
2005 2006 24 1 7 8
Member of team since 1997 and played in 2002/2006 Olympics. Russia did not qualify for 1998 Olympics.
Current Team: Moscow Tornado.
University of Minnesota Duluth: 2001-2003. Forward with 24 points (7goals/17 assists) in 49 games.
Date of Birth: June 3, 1980
Height: 168 m / 5'6"
Weight 68 kilos / 139 lbs.
Position: right defence
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
For the 2011/12/13 seasons Iya Gavrilova has been playing for the Calgary Dinos along side Hayley Wickenheiser. Prior to the March 8-11 championship Gavrilova had 27 points in 21 games. She was also named first team Canada West all-star. Gavrilova has played for Team Russia since 2004.
Iya Gavrilova Feb 2011 interview with Elizabeth Etue.
Elizabeth Etue: What did you think of your team’s efforts at the Olympics?
Iya Gavrilova: I think our 6th ranking at the Olympics could have been better if we would have a better training camp before Olympics. Many teams were centralized for the year, compare to our 3 week camp before the Olympics. I think the girls worked really hard and put lots of effort into the games but it's hard to compete against teams who have worked much more and are just physically stronger.
EE: How did you feel about your own play?
IG: I didn't help the team and it tells a lot about my play. I know I should have done a better job but I can't fix it anymore. Just have to look forward and work more, it is the only way I can get better.
EE: What is Russia doing with players like you who are out of the country to train for Olympics? Do they stay in touch?
IG: So far, i am the only player who trains outside of country. I am staying in touch with my national team manager and that’s about it. The Russian federation doesn't really care about its players. For example, they won't pay players airline tickets to go to the national team camps. Club teams in Russia pay for its players tickets. Right now I am talking to them to find out if they will pay my ticket to the camp before the World Championship in April 2011 and I haven't got any emails back. So far I got my ticket paid by the Russian federation twice in my hockey career (one time going back from Vancouver, and one time when I went for World Championship in China).
EE: Is there a new coach for worlds 2011 and if so what is he like?
IG: Same coach. Nothing has changed
EE: How has Russian women’s hockey changed since you started playing?
IG: It definitely got better. The players got faster, more skilled. I think a lot of it has to do with foreign players from USA, Finland and Canada who are coming to play hockey in Russia. Russian players learn a lot from them and it is a positive trend for our hockey.
EE: How does the Russian wms league compare to US college hockey or international hockey?
IG: The Russian league is far behind US college hockey and international hockey. We have 2-3 teams in the league that can challenge each other, the other 3 teams just can't compete at the high level. There are not enough good games for players to get better. The games are slower because there is not enough intensity.
EE: Does Russia have a new plan for wms hockey for 2014 Olympics?
IG: I heard a lot from interviews about our plans, but nothing is set for sure. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation wants to have 2 to 3 months of the national team camps in North America during the summer. Again, I don't really know if it's going to happen for sure. Also, the current coach is planning to have a 6 months camp before the Olympics but it wasn't confirmed.
EE: How has this season been going for you with your Minnesota club team?
IG: I played just a few games with them and it was a lot of fun for me. The team is doing great in the conference; I am looking forward to the play-off games for the Clarkson Cup at the end of March.
EE: What is the calibre of play compared to college hockey in USA?
IG: The games are not as intense as it is in college. Players are more experienced and they play smart. Also, a lot of them don't practice every day due to work or family and they are playing just for fun, so it's hard for them to stay in shape.
EE: Where will you go to school next year in Canada and what will you take?
IG: I am going to grad school at the University of Guelph and taking a post graduate marketing program.
EE: Will you play college hockey?
IG: I will play college hockey in Canada, I still have 3 years of eligibility in Canada. I am very excited and can't wait to play college hockey again.
EE: Is your plan to work in North America? What kind of work interests you the most?
IG: While I am in school, I'll be working as a Teaching Assistant to help pay for my tuition. I don't really know about my future job and what I want to do. My friend in Russia works for the government and he was offering me a job back home. I know if I will have any problems finding job in Russia, in North America it's much harder, especially with current economic conditions.
EE: It is challenging to get information on the Russian game, thanks for answering these questions.
IG: It's not a challenge to get information about games in Russia and about the national team games. Here is a website: http://whockey.ru/ (Note: web site is in Russian but easy to translate)
Email Interview with Elizabeth Etue Sept. 2009
Q. What are you doing differently in your training now for Olympics?
A. Nothing much, we don't even have national team camps and my back issues prevented me do from doing any work outs in August but I am back training now. Everybody from the national team is with their current club teams and they, like usual, do the same workouts each year.
Q. What did you learn at University of Minnesota Duluth that was helpful in terms of playing and training?
A. I have learned that for hockey you need to train mentally and also do different types of workouts in order to get better and stronger. I learned different on ice drills that improved my teamwork. USA college hockey is completely different than Russian hockey so right now I know what kind of training I need to do off the ice and on the ice.
Q. What was the most important influence in your hockey experience and why?
A. The first and the most important influence since I was a kid was my Dad. When I got to play for UMD my coaches were an important influence also.
Q What is your contribution to the national team?
A. I bring a little bit more confidence to the team and training knowledge, I am trying to educate them about training.
Q. What is your national team’s biggest advantage and challenge?
A. The biggest advantage is our ability to move the puck well in the offensive zone. The challenges are defence and coaches. We have never had one coach for a long time; the Russian Federation keeps changing them almost every year.
Q How is this Olympics team different from previous teams?
A. This Olympic team is going to be more young compared to previous years. Right now the coaching staff is building our team for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Q What would you ask your country's fans to do to support the team?
A. At least, try to watch women's hockey and not criticize us.
Q What is your strategy vs Canada and US?
A. In my mind the strategy is to win every micro match for my line. For the team coach does not really give us any strategy...
Q. What is a regular training day for you?
A. First is an on-ice practice, then after a workout, and end with a stretch. I do not have a specific training diet or exercises because our National team coach does not suggest anything, and I do not have the resources for these.
Q. What do you read to inspire you or who inspires you in the hockey world?
A. Sometimes the hockey articles I read or sports I watch on tv, NHL games or national team games inspire me.
Q. What is your motivation to keep working so hard?
A. I Just want to keep playing better because I love this game. I want my team do well against any competition we have.
Member since 2004/05 season