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30 July 2015 | in Winter FISU World University Games, Ice Hockey

2015 WU Medallists turn Pro with NWHL Team

LAUSANNE – This October, women’s ice hockey will make history as the NWHL will become operational as the first full professional ice hockey league for women. The NWHL stands for National Women’s Hockey League and is a modest start of what might become the female’s equivalent of North America’s NHL, the biggest and most famous professional ice hockey league in the world. Compare it with the WNBA and the NBA in basketball. 

In its first season of operations, four teams will compete, i.e. the New York Riveters, Connecticut Whale, Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts thus resulting in geographically being a merely East Coast operation. The NWHL predominantly recruits its players from the NCAA ice hockey programmes at US universities with the rosters being finalised by the end of August. However, The Riveters are looking beyond boundaries as they start to have already an international line-up. But what’s more interesting is that two of its players who recently signed are former FISU medallists. Indeed, Japanese goalie Nana Fujimoto won a bronze medal at the 27th Winter Universiade in Granada this winter, while Russian forward Liudmila Belyakova did even better, winning the gold.

Nana Fujimoto in action at the Mulhacen Ice Pavilion in Granada during the 27th Winter Universiade (Photo: C. Pierre)

The New York Riveters are giving the 26-year-old Japanese goaltender and former Sapporo Gakuin University student the chance to become the face of women’s hockey in her home country. Fujimoto was named the top goaltender at the Women’s Worlds with a 1-1-0-1 record, one shutout, 1.52 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. Prior to her outstanding World Championship and Universiade bronze medal Fujimoto was the netminder for Team Japan at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. In five games, Fujimoto allowed fifteen goals and posted a 3.31 GAA and .885 SP.

“Being able to play in such a competitive league means a lot to me in regards to personal development, but also means a lot to the hockey world in Japan,” Fujimoto said. “Ice hockey is still a minor sport in my home country, but I hope that my success in the NWHL will give hope to the young players back in Japan.”

Liudmila Belyakova on Granada ice during the 2015 Winter Universiade (Photo: C. Pierre)

Fujimoto will join Liudmila Belyakova, a former student of the Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism. Belyakova has played for the Russian women's national team since she was 15 years old, accumulating 47 points (30g, 17a) in 88 games. She played in three U-18 Women's World Championships from 2010-2012, helping Russia win a gold medal in the Division I tournament in 2011. She also played for the Russian squad that won their second bronze medal in history at the 2013 Women's World Championships in Ottawa, Canada. Belyakova played for Team Russia at the 2015 Women's Worlds as well after winning the gold medal at the Winter Universiade in Granada, Spain.

"I'm very happy and very excited. This is a long-time dream come true, so I think everything combined is going to be very exciting," said Belyakova. "I will try to do all possible to help my team win a championship."

(Source: NWHL/IIHF/C. Pierre, FISU Press Officer)