Canada, Russia Renew Rivalry With 2012 Challenge Series


Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Boone Jenner (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

There’s a new way for World Junior hopefuls to make an impression on Hockey Canada staff this summer. On May 11, it was announced that a Canada-Russia Challenge would be held in August.

The Challenge series will comprise of four games. It will start off with two games in Yaroslavl, Russia, and conclude with two games in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The series is essentially being viewed as a replacement for Canada’s usual summer evaluation camp.

While the final twenty-two man roster won’t be announced until December, this will be an excellent opportunity for players to make a solid opening statement to Hockey Canada brass. The 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place in Ufa, Russia.

In mid-June, Hockey Canada announced a twenty-eight man roster that is filled with a plethora of Canadian Hockey League stars. There are seven players who won a bronze medal for Canada at the 2012 World Juniors, and many of the team’s marquee players were top draft picks in the past NHL Entry Draft.

Let’s take a look at who will be stepping on the ice for Canada, with a  focus on some of the bigger names.

The Forwards

Simply put, Canada will have a stacked lineup of offensive threats. Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner, Mark Scheifele, and Ryan Strome all donned the maple leaf for Canada at the past World Juniors. They will be expected to lead a terrific group of forwards.

Huberdeau was the third overall pick of the Florida Panthers in 2011, Strome went fifth to the New York Islanders, Scheifle was selected seventh by the Winnipeg Jets, and Jenner was a second-rounder of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Only one first-round choice from the 2012 Draft will be lacing up the skates for Canada at forward. Tom Wilson, chosen sixteenth overall by the Washington Capitals, will bring grit combined with offensive ability to the team up front. Based on a recent Twitter post of his, he’s pretty excited to get going.

There will be two 2013 NHL Draft eligibles throwing Canada’s red and white on their shoulders. Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67’s and Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers will both look to make their mark. The two are 1994 birth-dates, so it’s not as if they’re truly youngsters at the camp. But because of their late birthdays, they were not eligible for the past draft.

Lukas Sutter, a recent selection of the Winnipeg Jets and current member of the Saskatoon Blades, is pumped up and ready to go.

“I’m going to bring that gritty two-way game with a lot of spark and a lot of jump. I want to provide that for my team. It’s something I take a lot of pride in,” Sutter told The StarPhoenix. “I really look forward to playing that role and earning a spot on the winter team.”

The Defense

Scott Harrington (CHL Images)

Saying Canada appears to have some good depth on defense would be an understatement. Ten blueliners are on the team, and the lowest drafted player was chosen at the start of the third round.

The blueliners are led by Scott Harrington of the London Knights and Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips. They played together on the 2012 World Juniors squad, so they’re familiar with eachother’s styles and tendencies. Both excel at shutting down incoming offensive threats, and they could end up being paired together for this series.

Dougie Hamilton, the 2012 CHL Defenceman of the Year, will be counted on heavily at both ends of the ice. There’s a good chance he could step into the Boston Bruins’ lineup next season.

In Cody Ceci, Mathew Dumba, Griffin Reinhart, and Morgan Rielly, Canada will have four defensemen who were chosen in the top-twelve of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This will be a good opportunity to showcase their raw defensive skills on the big, open ice over in Russia.

Keep an eye on Ryan Murphy, the star offensive defenseman for the Kitchener Rangers. A first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, Murphy has been cut twice from this team. This time around, he’s more at ease, and will look to instill confidence in the young blueliners who haven’t been through this before.

It will likely be a tough challenge for many of Russia’s forwards to match up against some of the greatest young blueliners around. Having said that, many people said the same thing prior to the last two World Junior Championships, so one never really knows.

Overall, Canada has a nice blend of defense and offense on the blueline. They could end up being a real treat to watch.

The Goaltenders

Three netminders are scheduled to be making the trip across the Atlantic and back. Laurent Brossoit, Maxime Lagacé, and Malcolm Subban will be in between the pipes for Canada.

Laurent Brossoit (CHL Images)

Brossoit, a 2011 choice of the Calgary Flames, recently led the Edmonton Oil Kings to the WHL Championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup. Lagacé, a free-agent signing of the Dallas Stars, is the backstop for the P.E.I. Rocket of the QMHL. And of course, Subban was the first-round pick of the Bruins this past June.

At this point, the starters job is still up for grabs. While it’s expected to come down to either Brossoit or Subban, don’t be surprised if Lagacé makes a solid push.

All players selected to participate in this 40th anniversary celebration of the 1972 Summit Series have been chosen for a reason. They’re all exceptional talents, and have emerged as the elite among their age group.

Though the games won’t be officially counted by the IIHF, intensity will be high as both teams look to represent their countries to the best of their abilities. Tribute will be paid to the city of Yaroslavl, which lost thirty-six KHL players in a horrific plane crash last September.

The Russians will be led by familiar faces in Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov. Chosen first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in June, Yakupov should be given plenty of ice-time to showcase his talents to the world. He is expected to suit up for the Oilers in the upcoming season. Anton Slepyshev will be another top Russian forward to watch.

In goal, Andrei Makarov and Andrei Vasilevski will lead the way. Vasilevski is best known as the goalie who ruined Canadian hopes at the most recent World Junior Championship in Alberta. He was selected nineteenth overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in June. Makarov, who got the start in the gold medal game against Sweden, will likely be the backup. In all likelihood, Denis Perevozchikov will be the third goaltender.

The first game of the series goes August 9 in Yaroslavl, Russia.


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