Russian National Hockey Team practices for Olympics in Duluth

By KBJR News 1

November 22, 2013 Updated Dec 18, 2013 at 10:43 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- The Northland has always been considered the frozen heart of the State of hockey...and that has drawn in some visitors who know the game better than most.

"We know that North American hockey has always been the high level in the U.S. and Canada... multiple medalists. We also know that college level here is one of the highest levels that women's hockey can be at," said Ekaterina Pashkevitch, center for the team.

It's that expertise that has drawn the women's Russian National Hockey Team to Duluth.

They arrived Wednesday and plan to practice and scrimmage against several Northland teams over the next two weeks.

Its all part of the team's road to Sochi.

"I'm very happy to be here," said Alexandra Vafina, forward.

Team members say they're excited to play against some of the best female hockey players in the world...but even more exciting, they say, is the upcoming Olympic Games which will be held in their home country.

"We're going for medals... I mean, we definitely showed at the last Worlds that we're fully capable, we won the bronze medal so... you know, our goals set pretty high. We want to try to do everything we can obviously to win a medal, you know, at home," said Pashkevitch.

And for some of the players this isn't their first trip to the Northland.

For forward Alexandra Vafina, a former UMD player, being back in Duluth feels a bit like home.

"I'm happy to come back here because last year I played here so it's just kind of... I don't know... it's strange feelings but I'm happy to be here," said Vafina.

The team of 24 members will play two games against UMD, one game against Bemidji, and two games against North Dakota during their two week stay in Duluth.

"We play a lot against European teams, but obviously not a lot against North American teams or colleges or anybody, so for even our younger players, ya know, they're the same age as the college girls so it'll be great for them to try their powers," said Pashkevitch.

The first game for the Russian team will be against UMD, in Duluth on the 26th.

The team says they would like to give a special thanks to UMD Women's Hockey Coach, Shannon Miller, for her efforts in bringing the team over from Russia.

Elsa Robins