In Depth

Russians look to continue breakthrough at hockey worlds

Russian forward Yekaterina Pashkevich remembers how the Summit Series paved the way for the intense Canada-Russia rivalry. Now she'll be a part of it as those two teams meet on Monday in the semifinals of the world women's tournament.

Set to meet Team Canada in the semis

Team Russia's captain Yekaterina Smolentseva, front, is given a cheer from teammates after defeating Team Switzerland 2-1 in their quarterfinal match at the IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship in Ottawa on Saturday. Next up for the Russians are Team Canada in the semis. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

OTTAWA — The oldest competitor at the women's world hockey championship was born three months after Canada won the historic '72 Summit Series over the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.

And Russian forward Yekaterina Pashkevich remembers how the eight-game series that paved the way for the intense Canada-Russia rivalry was talked about in her parents Moscow home when she was growing up.

"We all know the history, Canada and Russia and the '70s series,'' Pashkevich said. "Russia-Canada is always a great game to play."

Those two teams meet on Monday in the semifinals of the world women's tournament after the USA faces Finland in the first semifinal. The winners play for gold on Tuesday after the losers meet for bronze.

There isn't the excitement for the Canada-Russia match at the women's championship as there would be if it were a world junior championship game between the two countries or an Olympic men's clash.

The Russian and Canadian women simply don't have as much history between them. Canada has won all four games against Russia at the women's worlds since their first meeting in 1997, and the Canadians are 12-0 when you count other competitions since they first met.

Add to that how Canada has played in every world women's championship game since the first one in 1990, and every Olympic final.

Russia? They lost all five games they played at the 2012 worlds in Vermont but have won all four a year later in the national capital.

A unique route

Of all the players in the eight-team women's tournament, you could say Pashkevich took a different route to the 2013 championship.

After the Soviet Union split in 1991, Pashkevich went to Boston and accepted an invitation to coach the women's team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to just learn the language and the North American style of hockey. I had confidence I could do it."

And it was during her time in Boston that she fell for football and the New England Patriots. Her passion for the sport led her to play nine seasons as a running back and fullback in the Independent Women's Football League.

"I loved it. It is such a great game, the physical part of it, the pace,'' Pashkevich said. "I just love it but … [it’s] hard on your body. Now that I am older, I am done with football and I am sticking to hockey."

Pashkevich played for Russia at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games. She had settled into retirement when she went to the 2012 world championships in Vermont to see old friends and the competitive juices started to flow. She talked to the coaching staff and was invited to Russia's training camp in the fall.

"I am pretty proud of myself to come back at that age,'' she said.

When asked whether she feels like she is almost old enough to be the mother of her linemates, Pashkevich was quick to reply: "Not almost. They are 18 and I am 40."

Increased support, increased success

Much has changed since the Russians exited the 2012 world tournament without a win. Given how Russia is playing host to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation poured money and resources into the women's program.

The Russians have gone from zero wins a year ago to playing for a medal at the world championships in a year.

"It's just drive and motivation I guess. The Olympics are coming and the goals are set pretty high and the expectations are high,'' Pashkevich said about what a difference a year made. "I am not what I used to be. I am 40 years old, but whatever experience I can use to help the youngsters, I want to help."

Pashkevich and her teammates are looking forward to playing the defending world champs in an NHL arena.

"I do not want to say we are intimidated. We've seen them many times and we know they are good. They have beat us every time we have played them before. But in sports, anything can happen any day.

"We have to execute everything perfectly. There is no other way, and Canada will not allow us to make mistakes."