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Russian Women's Hockey to Play at MIT

By Eric Richard
Contributing Editor

MIT will host the Russian National Women's Hockey Team in five exhibition games next week as part of its training for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

"This is an opportunity to see women's hockey at its best," said Katie B. Joynt '94, a member MIT's women's hockey team and one of the event's coordinators. "It is a real honor to have them at our school."

"I am interested in getting some of those doubting Thomases [to attend] so they can see hockey as it should be played," Joynt said. "I think they'll see better hockey here than they will ever see at MIT, in any other form. Certainly they will make the men look like children."

The national Women's Ice Hockey Fund organized these games, which are part of the team's North American tour -- a prerequisite to qualifying for the World Championship and Olympic games.

During the week, the Russian team will face present and past state and national champion teams from the Women's South Shore League, according to Paula Stanton, an event coordinator. The teams consist of a combination of college-age and post-college players, Stanton said.

The games will be played in the Johnson Athletic Center and will be free to the public. The games will start at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and will start at noon on Saturday.

Russian hockey defies stereotypes

Several of the event coordinators feel that the social perception of women's hockey is one of its greatest impediments to popularity.

"Unfortunately, there is this social perception that ... hockey is not a feminine sport," said Julia D. Ashmun, director of the Women's Ice Hockey Fund. "That perception is totally incorrect."

"Because of the social perception of hockey, we don't get much fundraising," Ashmun added.

"I think [these games] will provide a general exposure to women's ice hockey," Stanton said. "I think a lot of people don't even know that women play [hockey], let alone, women from Russia."

"For all of those people who really don't know that much about women's hockey or hockey in general, I think they will be very, very surprised," Joynt said. "I'm just really excited."

In spite of the fact that the games are technically non-checking, "it is still a physical game," Stanton said. "It is an exciting game to watch."

The event's coordinators are also looking towards the 1998 Olympics as a turning point in the popularity of the sport since they will feature the first Olympic Medal competition in women's hockey.

"The Olympics will be to women's hockey what Nadia [Comenici] was to gymnastics," Ashmun predicted.

Event presents rare opportunity

Ashmun described the event as a unique opportunity for both spectators and the team itself.

For audience members, the games will present "a rare opportunity to see the Russian style of coaching in hockey," Ashmun said. "These women have skated only between one and three years, and, yet, they are playing against some of our best B level teams."

On the other hand, the games present a chance for the Russian team to acquire much needed equipment through donations. "Some of the players we saw in Russia cannot get any equipment," Ashmun said. "A lot of the women were not wearing adequate equipment."

In order to alleviate some of the financial burdens placed on the team, the Women's Ice Hockey Fund has been working to provide access to rinks, housing, food, transportation, and translators for the team members.

"They are coming here totally in trust that we will be able to house them, feed them, and transport them," Ashmun said. "It takes a lot of courage to have them come over here and have that much trust in us."

The team is comprised of 22 of the best women hockey players in Russia, ranging from 15 to 32 years old. The team members were selected during the New Year's Eve Tournament in St. Petersberg.

According to Ashmun, several of the team members are world-class athletes and will be participating in the 1998 Winter Olympics.

In particular, Ashmun cited Ekaterina Pashkevich, a center from Moscow, and Maria Eorisova, a 15-year old who is going to play in the world championships, as two of the team's dominant players.

Women's hockey is a game of finesse, Ashmun said. "And the Russians are the ultimate in finesse."