VANCOUVER, B.C – Canada West will take a month-long Christmas break following this weeks slate of games. The Calgary Dinos will be hosting USports number one ranked, UBC Thunderbirds at Father David Bauer Arena on Friday and Saturday. The Dinos will look to head into the break by winning their first game since Thursday, October 20, against Mount Royal University.
Forward Alexandra Vafina, has been a bright spot for the 1-13 Dinos. The fourth-year Russian import brings a buzz of excitement whenever she has the puck. After finishing second in Canada West scoring last season, Vafina leads the Dinos with 5 goals and 4 assists in 14 games this season. Personal statistics aren’t what drives Sasha, as she’s affectionately know by her Calgary teammates.
“I mean, it doesn’t matter for me,” admitted Vafina. “I don’t really count numbers, scores, or assists. It’s just a matter of how the team plays and that’s the most important thing for me because, it’s not one person, there are five of us on the ice. That’s our family, so we have to be thinking about everyone else.”
Vafina has been a strong offensive force up front for Calgary. Her skill set sets her apart as one of the most talented university hockey players in Canada. When you watch her skate around the ice and stick-handle through skates, sticks, and flat-footed defenders, you can clearly see the Russian skill-set that so many hockey players from Russian have. That’s not something you commonly see in Canadian born university hockey players.
Calgary Dinos Coach Danielle Goyette, certainly agrees with that notion.
“No, you’re right,” said Goyette. “Sometime they’re a higher risk player, that’s why as a coach you have to live with that. They’re going to take risks, sometimes it’s going to be good, sometimes it’s not going to be good, it’s going to go against the team. As long as she’s learning that process, that I can be high risk in this area, but around the blue line I have to be careful. She’s learning how to be a leader and sometimes it takes a lot of time to learn that part.”
Growing up in Chelyabinsk Russia, Vafina always played hockey. It wasn’t until an opportunity in North American presented her a chance to get a higher education and play the game she loves. Vafina previously played for the University of Minnesota Duluth. Last season was a breakout season with the Dinos, Vafina recorded 14 goals and 21 assists in 28 games. She was named to the Canada West and CIS First All-Star Teams. Having a relationship with Coach Goyette and Russian national teammate, Iya Gavrilova helped Vafina ease into life in Calgary.
“It was really a turning point in my life,” said Vafina when asked about moving to North America. “It’s a great experience and I’m really glad that I made it all the way here. It’s just a choice to come play in the U.S. and then I chose to come to Calgary because, I knew Danielle (Goyette) and my (former) teammate Iya Gavrilova. She also played here, and it was awesome to play with her over in Canada. I’m really glad that I’ve had that opportunity. I have two more years and I’m going to make it as much as I can.”
While Vafina is modest about her skills, talent, and presence on the ice, Goyette sees Vafina taking a bigger step this season into more of a leadership role with the graduated Iya Gavrilova no longer playing for the Dinos. As a leader on the team, losses can be tougher and pressure can start to mount during prolonged losing streaks. Vafina continues to put in the work on and off the ice, and lead by example. Goyette knows how much passion and drive she has.
“She loves the game,” said Goyette. “She’s passionate about the game. You can see it when she plays the game, she’s passionate. She has so much emotion into the game. She wants to do the right thing all the time on the ice. She’s learning how to be a leader. This is a player that’s working so hard every week on skills, working hard in practice. As long as players like Sasha want to get better, that’s the best thing you can ask for as a coach, because it’s fun to work with players like that.”
While the last place Calgary Dinos aren’t having the best of seasons in the competitive Canada West, they always play hard and offer every opponent a tough game. Sasha Vafina has the ability to quickly change the outcome of a game, and that’s why you can never count out the Calgary Dinos with the Russian sniper in the lineup.