Preview of WHL Russia Super Series:
-This Monday in Kelowna, B.C. and Tuesday in Kamloops, the best Canadian born players out of the Western Hockey League (WHL), will take on a team of Russian selects in the ninth annual WHL section of the CHL Canada Russia Series. This year the WHL will take on Russia in the first two games of the series, before the Russians go on to play teams from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hokey League (QMJHL). In order to determine who wins the series, the cumulative Russian record over the six games is looked at, with goals for used as the tie breaker.
What the Super Series essentially serves as is a way for Hockey Canada to look at the best players over Canada’s three junior hockey leagues in order to help determine who they will choose to represent the country for the U-20 World Junior Championships (WJCs) this December. Selection camp for Canada this year is in mid-December.
The WHL coaches this year are Dave Lowry (Victoria), Kelly McCrimmon (Brandon) and Don Hay (Kamloops).
Looking at this year’s WHL team:
This year’s team has two players on it that won gold with Canada at last year’s WJCs. These two are thus expected to be locks to make Canada this season. With the way Victoria Royals’ defenseman Joe Hicketts and Moose Jaw Warriors’ forward Brayden Point have played so far this year it would be shocking if they were left off. Point leads the WHL in points with 39 to this point and as fresh off a four goal outing the other night. Hicketts meanwhile leads all WHL defensemen in assists with 20 and has helped his team to a surprising 14-5-0-1 record.
Seattle’s combination of Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp will be looked at closely by Hockey Canada. Barzal was a first round pick in last year’s draft by the New York Islanders and has represented Canada in the past. It would be surprising if he did not make the final Canadian roster. Gropp, however will likely need a strong outing in this series, along with a good selection camp in early December to earn a spot. He could be in a similar spot that Taylor Leier was in a couple of years ago entering this series. Leier played well and scored a shorthanded goal, leading to him making the team and representing his country.
Everett has been led by defenseman Noah Juulsen and goalie Carter Hart, so it’s not shocking that they are both being looked at by Hockey Canada. Juulsen was a first round pick by Montreal in last June’s draft and has seven points through his first 11 games this season. He is also a highly coveted right handed shot from the blue line. This alone would warrant a look, but he is also one of Canada’s best defensive d-men in this age group. His powerful slap shot would fit right in on Canada’s top power play unit. Hart represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this last summer and although the 17-year-old is likely just being looked at for future tourneys, a strong outing would warrant an invite to December’s camp.
Portland’s Adin Hill is coming off of CHL Goalie of the Month for October honors and was invited largely because of this. While Kelowna scored 11 goals over the last two games last weekend, he is still a dark horse to tend goal for Canada at this winter’s WJCs. Hill’s style is unorthodox, but his stats to start the season, along with some of the highlight reel saves he’s made will keep him in contention despite not being a household name across Canada. He will likely get into one of the two games and of the three goalies invited, he is the most likely one to actually make the team.
Many players were initially invited but have to miss the tournament due to injuries. The players missing out on the series are: Rourke Chartier (Kelowna), Dillon Dube (Kelowna), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current), John Quenneville (Brandon) and Travis Sanheim (Calgary). Several of these injured players were thought to be real contenders to make Canada’s final team. This means that them being out, allows players like Kamloops’ Collin Shirley and Deven Sideroff, Edmontons’ Dysin Mayo Calgary’s Jake Bean the chance to play and impress.
WHL players on Russia’s Team:
Meanwhile the Russian select team has several WHL players on it. Red Deer Rebel and former Everett Silvertip Ivan Nikolishin will look to continue his strong play in these two games. Nikolishin, who was traded in the offseason has 27 points, which is good for seventh in the league. Also playing in the game for Russia will be Calgary’s Radel Fazlev, Regina’s Sergey Zborovskiy and Brandon’s Ivan Provorov.