For the second straight year, the CHL Canada-Russia series will start in the WHL. Kelowna will host the opening game of the series on Monday before the WHL portion wraps up in Kamloops Tuesday night. The WHL’s regular season schedule will remain dark from Sunday through Tuesday to accommodate the series. Team WHL will be looking for revenge after having dropped twin 3-2 decisions to open the 2014 series. The Russians went on to win the series 11-7 on points.
Canada’s world junior bench boss, Dave Lowry (Victoria Royals), will get a first-hand look at this year’s talent pool alongside his world junior assistant, Kelly McCrimmon (Brandon Wheat Kings). Former world junior head coach Don Hay (Kamloops Blazers) will add his expertise to the coaching staff.
Injuries have already played a part in the WHL lineup, with Swift Current’s Jake DeBrusk, (BOS 14th overall 2015), Calgary’s Travis Sanheim (PHI 17th overall 2014), Brandon’s John Quenneville (NJ 30th overall 2014), Kelowna’s Rourke Chartier (SJ 149th 2014) and Dillon Dube (2016 Eligible), forced to miss the series. Team WHL will have to adjust quickly and utilize its depth to overcome the loss of these players.
WHL record since series inception: 16-7-1
WJC returnees: Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors), Joe Hicketts (Victoria Royals)
WJC non-returnees most likely to earn a camp invite
1) Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels: The seventh-overall pick by the Hurricanes in 2014, Fleury played well in this event last year and rode that momentum before being one of Canada’s final cuts.
2) Jayce Hawryluk, C, Brandon Wheat Kings: The pest is now a thing of the past for Hockey Canada, unless of course the player has enough skill to hold his own. Hawryluk does.
3) Noah Juulsen, D, Everett Silvertips: Juulsen emerged in the second half of last season to become Montreal’s first pick in the 2015 NHL draft. There are spots open on the blueline
WHL’s highest drafted players
1) Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels: Seventh overall (2014), Carolina Hurricanes
2) Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle Thunderbirds: 16th overall (2015), New York Islanders
3) Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels: 23rd overall (2014), Colorado Avalanche
What to watch for
Under the radar
1) Brendan Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders: The smooth skating Guhle impressed from the 2015 BMO Top Prospects game right through to the NHL combine and eventually the draft, where he was taken 51st overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
2) Adin Hill, G, Portland Winterhawks: The Arizona Coyotes third-rounder in 2015 looks like the prototypical late bloomer. He has good size and calmness, but will have an uphill climb for never having been in the Program of Excellence.
3) Nolan Patrick, C/RW, Brandon Wheat Kings: The 2017 draft eligible continues to do it all for the Wheat Kings and on this big stage, things likely won’t change.
Injuries: How much of an impact will injuries to key players have on Hockey Canada’s decisions for camp invitations? Will those who have replaced the injured players — Dysin Mayo (Edmonton Oil Kings), Deven Sideroff (Kamloops Blazers), Reid Gardiner (Prince Albert Raiders), Collin Shirley (Kamloops Blazers), Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen) Dillon Dube (Kelowna Rockets) — take full advantage of their opportunities?
Revenge: Will the young WHLers feel the pressure to avenge last year’s two losses, or use the revenge factor as motivation?
Sizing up the opposition
Expect the the 2015 CHL Canada-Russia Series to be as hotly contested as it has been in recent time. First, this series is a quasi rematch of last year’s world junior gold medal game won 5-4 by Canada. Having said that, Team Russia has captured the Canada-Russia Series three of the last five years, including the 2014 edition.
Russia has medalled in 10 of the last 11 world junior championships, but only has one gold in that stretch (2011). This year’s team features several players that were in Calgary for the summer development camp exhibition games augmented by Russian-born players playing in each of the three CHL leagues.
Head coach Valeri Bragin will once be behind the bench for the fifth time for Russia. He has three silver medals and a gold to show for his efforts with the under-20 program. Bragin will employ his no-nonsense approach and will surely have his team in contention in Finland.
None of Team Russia’s defencemen are under six fee tall, with nine of 14 six-foot-two or taller. In goal, CHL fans will get treated to a blast from the past as Maxim Tretiak (yes, he’s the grandson) will tend the twine.
Team Russia record since series inception: 23-48-1
WJC returnees: Ivan Provorov (Brandon Wheat Kings), Alexander Dergachyov (St. Petersburg SKA)
WJC non-returnees most likely to earn a camp invite:
1) Nikita Zhuldikov, D: A big, physical player who can get under the opponent’s skin.
2) Daniil Vovchenko, RW: Has had recent success in the KHL; is a smaller, skilled player and possesses the all-important right shot.
3) Evgeny Svechnikov, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles: Bragin rarely favours 18-year-old players for the world juniors, but Svechnikov’s size and skill combination may be too much to overlook.
Team Russia’s highest drafted players
1.) Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon Wheat Kings: Seventh overall (2015), Philadelphia Flyers
2.) Evgeny Svechnikov, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles: 19th overall (2015), Detroit Red Wings
3.) Yakov Trenin, C/LW, Gatineau Olympiques: 55th overall (2015), Nashville Predators
What to watch for
Under the radar
1) Radel Fazleev, C/LW, Calgary Hitmen: Fazleev is an intelligent hockey player with amazing drive. He’ll shoot for a top-six spot, but if that doesn’t work out he’ll adjust nicely to a bottom-six role. He was a sixth-round pick, 168th overall, by the Flyers in 2014.
2) Damir Sharipzyanov, D, Owen Sound Attack: Sharipzyanov possesses the size and toughness to be an impact player but is still finding his game legs after an injury suffered in Kings camp.
3) Kirill Pilipenko, RW: A smaller, skilled player who will use this event to show that he can execute some elements of the defensive side of the game.
Controversy: Each and every year at this time, Team Russia prefers to stir up the emotions by manufacturing issues that seemingly put their club at a disadvantage. Not to say that hasn’t happened on occasion, but issues have also been blown out of proportion.
Bad blood: There always seems to be a storyline when the world’s two most prominent hockey powers meet in any event. If what we saw at the summer development camp between these two teams is any indication, we could be in for a couple of great games.
Stock watch: Who will be the next Artemi Panarin to emerge from this series? Six years ago, Panarin made his mark on the series before helping Russia win gold at the 2011 world juniors. Now, he’s one of the top rookies in the NHL after the Blackhawks signed him as a free agent in May.