International Ice Hockey Federation

A save and a beauty

A save and a beauty

Russian goalie Prugova dazzles on, off the ice

Published 15.02.2014 12:05 GMT+4 | Author Slava Malamud
A save and a beauty
Russian goalkeeper Anna Prugova on the day before the quarter-final game against Switzerland. Photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images
Popularizing women’s hockey in Russia may have just gotten a whole lot easier, now that the dashing and enterprising Olympic goalie Anna Prugova is on the case.

It’s not hard to be impressed with the 20-year-old Khabarovsk native resplendent in the No. 1 Russia jersey and a red-and-blue mask with phoenixes all over. First of all, she is the starter for one of Sochi’s medal contenders who made her Olympic debut in Vancouver at the tender age of 16 and currently sports a 1.00 GAA heading into the all-important quarter-final matchup against Switzerland. Then, there is that other thing...

Shortly before the Games got underway, Prugova did a photo session for a Russian national TV channel, posing for pictures which in her native country are referred to as those of the “sincere” kind. Well, a girl has to do what a girl has to do, and if her kick saves and glove work won’t get women’s hockey popular in the notoriously patriarchal country, maybe the lingerie shots with the stunning blonde casually handling her goalie stick will. At the very least they may (and have – oh, very much so) popularize Anna Prugova.

“In some ways, yes, I can understand the Russian men’s opinion (on women’s hockey)”, said the always cheerful Prugova after her practice on the day before the big game. “Maybe it’s not women’s business for them. On the other hand, girls box nowadays and serve in the military, so why not? I am just happy that in Sochi so many people have seen us and found out that we exist.”

Prugova says she agreed to do to photos in part to make people aware and fight some of the misconceptions.

“There is this stereotype among the men that a female hockey player must be built like a bookcase and have a lot of missing teeth,” smiles the goalie. “Always with the teeth!”

Popularizing hockey is a worthy endeavor indeed, but showing her glamorous side must have come natural for Prugova, who plays games in eye makeup and jeweled earrings. As most goalies, she is a creature of habit and “getting her face in order” is a morning routine no matter if it’s the game day or not.

But the outer beauty, even it’s what makes her popular right now, is merely one side of this athlete. Born in the far-Eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk, mostly known in the hockey world as home of the former NHL star Alexander Mogilny, she started playing hockey at the age of 11 after attending a game of the local professional team, Amur and falling in love with the goaltender position immediately.

Single-minded and determined about her dream, she begged her father for some goalie gear. He eventually gave up, presenting Anna with a rather antique, 1970s style, set of pads and gloves for the International Womens’ Day, which is celebrated in Russia much the same way the Valentine’s Day is in the West.

Anna Prugova shows a photo with her first gear. Photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images

“We trained in what we called the 'Brazilian system',” laughs Prugova, showing off a childhood photo of herself in full gear in her parents’ living room. “I stood in front of the window and dad shot pucks at me. Thankfully, we never had to replace the glass.”

She made her debut with the local girls’ team two weeks later and became so good she soon had to be transferred to play with the boys. Initially met with sneers and contempt, Anna quickly proved where she belonged and spent four years backstopping the boys’ team in national tournaments. Her strength and determination helped along the way.

“That old gear my dad gave me was badly obsolete,” reminisces Prugova. “The knees were almost entirely unprotected. There was a lot of pain and bruises. I never wore skirts to school once I started playing, only pants. That didn’t make my mom happy. I still remember how painful it was, but I only wanted to keep playing more and more.”

Her new gear wouldn’t last long in its mint condition and Prugova took to repairing it herself, utilizing the sewing skills which in Russia are deemed an absolute must for every woman. Ironically, the only bad grade she ever got in school (which in itself is amazing, as Russian hockey players rarely have the time to take their education seriously) was in a home economics class, a C for failing to sew an apron. Her parents, who had seen her wield a needle over her jerseys and pads many a time, were quite baffled.

All along, her goaltending progressed to the point when in 2010, only five years after Anna first caught a puck thrown by her dad in the living room, she was selected to play for Russia at the Olympic Games in Vancouver. Admittedly, this was as much a recognition of her fast-growing talents, as it was the indictment of the competitiveness of Russian hockey.

The emotional and raw 16-year-old’s Olympic debut ended badly, with a 13-0 blowout at the hands of the USA, during which Prugova pulled herself out of the game.

“It wasn’t an emotional outburst and I wasn’t crying,” she says of that painful memory. “I just felt that there was nothing I could do to help the team. I hoped that a goalie change may shake things up a bit. I have never done such a thing since. Playing the Americans was quite a shock for me. It was like being thrown under a tank. But this was the last time I allowed this many goals, so it must’ve been a good experience.”

Currently starting for a professional women’s team, Tornado Moscow Region, Prugova arrived in Sochi as the No. 1 goalie for the host nation. Not to mention the most recognizable one. It should be mentioned, though, that she only landed the job after Nadezhda Alexandrova, the team’s perennial starter, pulled out of the Olympics due to pregnancy. Prugova isn’t shy to admit she is still a student of the game.

“I am really hungry to learn the position as well as I possibly can,” she says. “And there is so much to learn with goaltending! The flexibility, the splits, the muscle strength, the skating, even the geometry of rebounds. It’s no accident hockey is called 'fast chess', you know.”

Don’t call her a feminist, either. She learns by watching the men and will readily tell you that men’s hockey “is the beacon for us to set our sights on”. She won’t even go so far as to agree she is Khabarovsk’s third-most famous hockey player, behind Mogilny and the recent NHL first-round draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko.

“I haven’t achieved that much yet,” she says. “Let me win a medal here, then we will see.”

Russia’s medal hopes will rest on today’s quarter-final game against Switzerland, at 16:30 at the Shayba Arena.


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