Our #69 Mariya Sorokina with her teams in the Russian Women’s Hockey League, Atlant- Ufa In the left panel, and Dynamo in the right panel. Photo in the lower right is a goalie’s Fins Up!

FROM RUSSIA, WITH GLOVE

In any language, there are words or phrases that do not translate verbatim. In the Russian language one such word is zavodila (заводила), which has no exact equivalent in English. It refers to someone who is synergistic, enthusiastic about initiating something, a spark plug, if you will. Someone who can motivate by their example, their self confidence and importantly, their pleasant demeanor. Our #69 Mariya Sorokina, who arrived from Russia with glove, pads, stick and a mask, is a zavodila. From a small village in western Russia 4,500 miles away (5 hours from Moscow), she joins the Pod after a successful career in the Russian Leagues, and internationally with Team Russia. We had a preview of Mariya’s play here in North America last year, when she was the most successful goalie for Team Russia in their exhibition series against the Whale and other NWHL teams. Cetacean Nation was able to catch up with Mariya here, and learn a little more about her. The fans are always interested in how our amazing Whale got started in the sport of hockey, so we posed that question to Mariya. She replied “ Once a classmate gave me hockey tickets, and after this match, I was hooked, and even got a cool laptop game. It was a long way before I actually got on the ice, for my first youth team. I wasn’t taken to play with my peers because I came to hockey late (13 years). But I was lucky to meet the brilliant coach Zudin Alexei Borisovich. He gave me a chance, and took on training me along with the boys. Thanks to him and my colossal desire, I started to grow very quickly in skills. And a year after I entered the ice in a tracksuit and skates for $ 20.00, I received a call to the youth team of Russia, as the goalkeeper. This story has more details, but that is the short version.”

 

Since Mariya’s childhood hockey career started slowly, we also asked if she had played any other sports. She replied “Very many! Before I chose hockey, I tried myself in several sports. The main one was football (Soccer) It was most accessible. So I played that as well as volleyball, competitive pool swimming, karate and others”. And like most kids, Mariya had a couple of favorite players as well. She told us “At that time, I loved two goalkeepers that played on our local team: Atlant (Mytishchi). They are Konstantin Barulin and Vitaly Kolesnik. Now I have no idols. I'm watching many goalkeepers so I can learn from them.” The Russian team, Atlant Mytischi that Mariya referenced has produced a lot of good players from her region, including “The Professor” Igor Larionov, one of the first Russians to play in the NHL. So Cetacean Nation wanted to know a little about the hockey culture around Beliy in the Tver Region where she grew up. Mariya explained “In my city was a wonderful team-Atlant! The whole city was breathing hockey. It was also very popular to play on off ice hockey grounds, or on the street. Now the team does not exist here and people are very upset about it. They are homesick for the times when our team played in the final of Gagarin Cup.” The Gagarin Cup is the Russian Equivalent of the Stanley Cup. It is presented to the winner of the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs, and is actually named after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. If you look at the names of the players who have been on Cup winning teams, you will recognize many of them from their NHL day’s. One of them would be “The Magic Man” Pavel Datysuk. You may recall our #43 Huey Huertas was the first to tell us that “Datysuk” was the college nickname of our #92 Katka Mrazova, for reasons that are now obvious to the entire NWHL. Atlant is still an active team, but has relocated, as Mariya referenced. .

 

Cetacean Nation also asked a Mariya to give us her view of the current state of women’s hockey in Russia, and she offered this interesting insight. “In our country, women's hockey is gaining popularity. Every year, everything becomes more interesting. There is good support from the Ministry of Sport and the Hockey Federation of Russia. And the men’s league, KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) broadcasts matches on TV. (of the women’s Zhenskaya Hockey League) Little girls are increasingly coming to sports schools. Women's amateur hockey is very developed, and think that this sport has great future” Mariya played in the Zhenskaya Hockey League for Agidel-Ufa In Bashkortostan, and Dynamo-Saint Petersburg. She won the league championship with Agidel Ufa earlier this year, and twice previously had led the top league in both goals against average and shut-outs with Dynamo-Saint Petersburg. She also picked up a bronze medal at the IIHf World Championships with Team Russia in 2016, and a gold medal with the Russian team in the winter World University Games (Universiade) in 2017. We asked Mariya about her favorite moment from her international career and she indicated she still had unfinished business. “ I have not yet reached the great heights that my desire is commensurate with. I really want to play on the national team and bring her great victories. In the meantime, I can highlight the Universiade in Kazakhstan in 2017. We played played at home in front of great fans, and it was nice to beat Canada, in such a difficult match, for the gold medals. But all the time you spend on a team is important to me. I love this.” And Cetacean Nation loves this as well, spoken like true zavodila.

 

Hockey goalies wear masks, and often the mask becomes an outward expression of the players personality or artistry. After the untimely passing of her countryman, NY Ranger prospect Alexei Cherepanov, Mariya’s helmet art honored Alexi in the 2015 season. Knowing this, we suspected there was a special reason, as there is for many hockey players, behind Mariya's choice of the #69 as her uniform number. She explained it this way, saying . “ I chose my number not by accident. This is a tribute to my small hometown, the city of Beliy, Tverskaya region. And a huge memory to my father, who died in 2013.” Mariya joins what we have termed the “ United Nation of Whale” probably best illustrated by the fact that our five Whale participants in this year’s NWHL All-Star Game are from five different countries. As our “delegate” from Russia, Mariya increases the UNW to six, and Cetacean Nation believes that the mix of styles and experiences have had far reaching benefits for the Whale. Mariya agreed,saying, “It's true.This can bring something new and different into the team's game. A zest which is not present in other teams” She also added this note about her time here so far saying, “I'm still getting used to life in America. Here everything is different, than in our country where so much more is planned out:” In parting, Mariya had this message for all longtime, new, and potential Whale fans “ I would like to wish that everyone would come out enjoy the game with us, and support the team in any way! Time will come soon, that you'll love the Whale and me 😄 ! thank you very much! Embrace! Fins Up!” Cetacean Nation loves the way Mariya described the team spirit as zest, and appreciates Mariya sharing her thoughrs on these topics. Fins Up to #69, our zavodila Maria Sorokina!

 

Update 1/2/19: The Whale announced today that Mariya had been dealt to the Metropolitan Riveters for future considerations. We only knew Mariya a short time, but she always had the time to make you smile. Once a Whale, always a Whale, zavodila!