03/26/2015 01:42 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Canadian university hockey star Gavrilova leads Russia into women's worlds

CALGARY - Fresh off accepting the award as the top player in Canadian women's university hockey, Iya Gavrilova now wants to continue the post-Sochi love in her homeland for the Russian women's team.

Russia and Canada meet Sunday at the women's world hockey championships in Malmo, Sweden, in what will be the second game in as many days for both countries.

Canada opens against defending champion United States and the Russians meet Finland on Saturday.

Gavrilova led Canadian Interuniversity Sport in scoring with 24 goals in 29 games in her third season with the University of Calgary Dinos.

The 27-year-old from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk became the first non-Canadian to earn the Brodrick Trophy as the top female hockey player in the CIS.

"She's a difference-maker in every game we play," Dinos coach Danielle Goyette said.

A Dinos teammate of Gavrilova's is Canadian star Hayley Wickenheiser, who won't be in Malmo. Wickenheiser underwent season-ending foot surgery last month.

After winning the bronze medal at the 2013 world championship in Ottawa, the host Russian women finished sixth at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Previously ignored by their country's hockey federation, a Winter Games in their country galvanized those in power to pay more attention to the national women's team.

Former NHL player Alexei Yashin was appointed general manager of the women just over a year out from Sochi.

Yashin no longer holds that post, but Gavrilova sees the first world championship after Sochi as a chance to reinforce the recent gains the Russian women have made both on and off the ice.

"Hopefully this world championship is going to go well," she said. "The one thing we learned from Sochi is we have a good market for women's hockey in Russia. So many people came out to watch our games. Every game was broadcasted on TV.

"Our league in Russia grew. We have a lot of teams joining the league now. It's really a tough time for the Russian economy right now. It's not even up to us. It's all about the politics right now."

The Russian federation flew Gavrilova and first-year Dinos teammate Alexandra Vafina to Spain in February for the World University Games.

Gavrilova had four goals and eight assists in four games. Russia shut out the Canadian women to win 3-0 in the gold-medal game.

"Even from the federation, I see a lot of attention coming into our program," Gavrilova said. "They do want to support it."

Most Europeans are drawn to the NCAA and its big scholarships when they decide to play hockey for a North American college or university.

Gavrilova started on that route at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but lost her eligibility after one season. Coach Shannon Miller steered the five-foot-seven, 139-pound forward to Calgary, where Goyette was building a strong women's hockey program.

"I think when I came here, my first year, I was more of an offensive player," Gavrilova said.

"Danielle taught me to play both sides of the game, in the offensive zone and defensive side. She worked with me a lot on my skills and my skating, saying that I have to get stronger working off the ice."

Gavrilova spent the 2013-14 season training full time with the Russian women in preparation for the Olympics in Sochi.

She's comfortable switching to a North American style of hockey when Russia meets the U.S. and Canada at world championships.

"I do feel maybe more confident when I play against them compared to other teammates," Gavrilova said. "It's hard to adjust because it's not an individual sport. It's a team sport. It's five players on the ice and we try to follow our system, whatever our coach is telling us.

"I feel like our team has grown so much over the past few years. Every year we get a little closer to those top two teams."

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