Ludmila Belyakova, the Russian forward formerly of the New York Riveters, announced via Twitter Friday afternoon that she would re-join HK Tornado Moscow in lieu of finding a place in the revamped NWHL.
As Mike Murphy revealed at Excelle Sports, Belyakova’s contract was not renewed by the New York Riveters, somewhat surprisingly, as her abilities were above-par on the New York franchise.
“Given Belyakova’s speed, puck skills and possession numbers, it’s hard to imagine that her game is not suited for any of the NWHL’s four teams,” Murphy wrote.
“For many criticizing Riveters head coach Chad Wiseman’s decisions during the inaugural season, Lyudmila Belyakova and her questionable deployment became a symbol of everything going wrong. After starting the season on the first line with Brooke Ammerman and Madison Packer, Belyakova shortly found herself seeing limited power play time and skating on the Riveters’ third line. Criticism and skepticism of Wiseman quickly followed that demotion and amplified as the club struggled its way through a 4-12-2 inaugural season.”
As Murphy explored, Belyakova’s downfall might have been due to the language barrier, which exaggerated the divisions between coach and player as well as player and player. While her skating and stickhandling were both impeccable, she was unable to elevate her linemates’ play, something for which communication is key. The decision to sign with a Russian-language team will eliminate that barrier instantly.
Belyakova announced her intent to continue to play hockey at a high level at the same time she announced she would not play for an NWHL team this season; her return to HK Tornado, where she played during the 2014-15 season, is not unexpected. As a Tornado she racked up a total of 41 points (26 goals, 15 assists) over 25 games and earned herself a place on the national team.
Fans can watch Belyakova’s first game with HK Tornado Moscow on KHL TV at the link.