By Jesse Michael for the Canadian Hockey League
The CHL is looking to continue its winning ways in the upcoming 2012 SUBWAY Super Series against the Russian National Junior team in the 10th anniversary of this rivalry.
The three regional CHL All-Star teams are coming off last year’s victory, the closest matchup in the nine-year history of the event, by way of a 10-8 score just one year after the Russians skated away with the series win en route to World Junior gold in Buffalo.
“When we first started (in 2003), the Russians weren’t sending over good enough competition,” said Kevin Prendergast, Head Scout for Hockey Canada’s Men’s National Junior Team. “But, over the last three years, they have sent better competition which has given us a better opportunity to evaluate our talent across the country and going forward as far as announcing our (World Junior) camp in December.”
Team OHL and Canadian World Junior Head Coach, Steve Spott of the Kitchener Rangers, backed up those sentiments, and emphasized the major difference in how the event has evolved.
“When you look at how the series has grown, I think the Russians have recognized the importance of it just as much as we have with regards to being an evaluation,” he said. “I think it’s great that it’s no longer a game that fans realize that we’re (CHL) just going to suit up our players and win. There’s legitimate competition.”
Last year didn’t start off well for the Canadians. For the second year in a row Team QMJHL lost both games to Team Russia. Team QMJHL came out flat in game one, eventually losing the contest 2-0 and followed that by losing a hard fought 5-4 game in a shootout.
Team OHL also mimicked its results from 2010, evening the series with a pair of victories to remain undefeated in their 18 games against the Russians, winning 10-7 and 6-3 in games three and four.
Team WHL looked to close out the Russians in games five and six to regain the SUBWAY Super Series title. A 5-2 win in game five got Team WHL on the right track. However, down 5-3 in game six, the Russians stormed back scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to take the final game 7-5.
The competition that Spott speaks of will not be any different this year, as the Russian teams will be comprised of several top NHL draft picks. These players include the Edmonton Oilers 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov, Tampa Bay first round pick goaltender Andrei Vasilevski, and Buffalo Sabres first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko.
The three regional CHL teams have some firepower of their own, boasting 21 first-round picks from the last two NHL Entry Drafts. The list includes 2011 3rd overall pick of the Florida Panthers, Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John Sea Dogs), 5th overall pick of the New York Islanders, Ryan Strome (Niagara IceDogs), and 2012 2nd overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips). Those three players are also returning members of Canada’s National Junior Team along with fellow SUBWAY Super Series players Dougie Hamilton (Niagara IceDogs), Scott Harrington (London Knights), Boone Jenner (Oshawa Generals), and Mark Scheifele (Barrie Colts).
The series will serve as a further evaluation for the players who went overseas in August for the Canada/Russia challenge, and a chance for others to prove they belong on the World Junior squad in December.
“Over the course of the year you can see these players play in their league against their peers, and then an opportunity comes along to play the Russian National Junior team, and the level of competition and everything with it goes up,” said Prendergast. “From our standpoint, it’s a great measuring stick for us (Team Canada brass) as far as going forward to announcing our tryout camp (for the World Juniors) in December.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the coaching staffs’ of all three regional teams to put the players on the ice that they believe will give their team the best opportunity to win, something they do not take lightly.
“We’ve had conference calls with the leagues already and speaking with André [Tourigny] and Mario [Duhamel] out in Quebec, and Don [Nachbaur] out West, I think we’re all on the same page about the players we want to take with us to Ufa [Russia],” Spott said.
These players will be front and center over the next week and a half, as all six games will be broadcast live nationally on Sportsnet with both QMJHL games on TVA Sports.
The 2012 SUBWAY® Super Series Schedule of Games is as follows:
Game 1 – Monday November 5 at Blainville-Boisbriand, QC
Game 2 – Wednesday November 7 at Val d’Or, QC
Game 3 – Thursday November 8 at Guelph, ON
Game 4 – Monday November 12 at Sarnia, ON
Game 5 – Wednesday November 14 at Vancouver, BC
Game 6 – Thursday November 15 at Victoria, BC