Apperson, Canada women’s hockey teammates fall short of Universiade gold

Tommies women’s hockey captain Kelty Apperson and her teammates on Canada’s national squad came up short of the ultimate prize at the 2017 Winter Universiade.

Team Canada fell 4-1 to Team Russia Monday in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a gold medal game that saw plenty of bounces and quality scoring chances go both ways.

The loss marked the second time Canada has fallen to Russia in the Universiade women’s hockey final. Russia took the 2015 championship with a 3-0 victory two years ago in Spain.

But this year’s contest was the third gold medal game in as many biennial Universiade tournaments between the two countries, who have been rivals in other international hockey events on both the men’s and women’s sides over the years. In the 2011 final, Canada downed Russia 5-0.

At this year’s event, Apperson netted the lone goal for Canada 11 minutes into the second period after Russia went up 2-0 to end the opening frame.

The talented St. Thomas University forward from Kingston, Ont., scored on an odd-man rush alongside forward Jaycee Magwood of the University of Regina Cougars. She took a pass from Magwood and flicked it past Russian netminder Maria Sorokina’s glove to cut the deficit in half.

“We just couldn’t bury the puck today,” Apperson said in a news release provided by U Sports, the governing body and official brand for university sports throughout Canada.

“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.

“[Russia] played a strong defensive system,” Apperson added. “They were very aggressive on the [penalty kill].”

Russia was first to light the lamp at 11:45 in the first period, when forward Olga Sosina’s shot hit the crossbar and looked to bounce outward. At first, the puck didn’t appear to cross the line, but the officials counted the goal nonetheless.

Belyakova’s goal came on the man advantage while rearguard Maude Laramée of the Université de Montreal Carabins served a minor penalty for interference. The first Russian marker was also the first power play goal Canada allowed on the tournament.

About a minute after Canada killed a holding penalty to rearguard Brianna Iazzolino of the Western University Mustangs, forward Liudmila Belyakova put the Russians up by two at 18:23 off a shot that beat goalie Valerie Lamenta of the University of Guelph Gryphons through her five-hole from just outside the goal crease.

Almost five minutes after Apperson’s goal in the second stanza, forward Olga Sosina restored Team Russia’s two-goal cushion with a shot that bounced off Lamenta’s body after she stopped most of it.

Lamenta kept her national teammates in the game, however. Canada was outshot 16-6 after the first period and 29-19 after 40 minutes by an experienced and resilient Russian squad that has seen some of its players suit up for the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games, among other world hockey events.

The final shot total was 36-26 in favour of Team Russia.

“We need to congratulate Russia for an excellent game,” Team Canada head coach Rachel Flanagan said in the release from U Sports.

“They played extremely well. Their goalie kept them in the game early on when I thought we were putting some good pressure on them.”

Flanagan, who coaches the Gryphons women’s team, said the Baluan Sholak Arena and standing room crowd of 5,000 people – most of them Russian fans – was a tough environment to play in.

“We knew what to expect and were prepared for it,” said Flanagan.

“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.”

Despite several quality scoring opportunities in period three on both sides, it was the Russians who put the final nail in Canada’s coffin at 11:08 when Alevtina Shtareva tapped a rebound shot past Lamenta on a power play while Laramée was off for tripping.

The Russians also earned the victory in a game where they spent more time killing penalties than they’d probably care to admit. Of the 52 total penalty minutes assessed by referees Kelly Cooke from the United States and Maria Raabye Fuchsel of Denmark, 40 of them went to Team Russia.

Canada failed to capitalize on 14 man-advantage opportunities, which included eight minutes of 5-on-3 and two four-minute chances. Russia went 2-for-6 on the power play.

Sorokina made 25 saves in the Russian net for the win, while Lamenta turned aside 32 shots for Canada in the losing effort.

Canada’s journey to the gold medal game, which was live-streamed online, included an 8-1 thumping of Team United States in the crossover, while Russia blasted China 10-1 in the other semifinal to advance.

Both Canada and Russia swept the round robin games in their respective divisions.

Team Canada thumped Kazakhstan, the tournament host, 11-0 after a 14-0 win over the United Kingdom and a lopsided 9-1 victory over China in preliminary play, while Russia beat Japan 10-1 and the U.S. 7-1 in its early contests.

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