As the Western Hockey League’s 22 member clubs prepare for the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season, there’s renewed hopes of hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup at the conclusion of the 2019 WHL Playoffs. Before the season gets underway, it’s time to take a look back at the individual and team performances that made the 2017-18 season one to remember. Today, the WHL is taking a look back at the first two stops on the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series, which took place in Moose Jaw and Swift Current, Sask.
The CIBC Canada Russia Series has a long history, dating back to 2003. Each year, a group of elite Russian talent travels to Canada to face off against the best under-20 players from the Canadian Hockey League. This tournament is used as a selection process in helping Hockey Canada identify talent for the IIHF World Junior Championships that occurs shortly after.
In November 2017, the Western Hockey League’s games took place in Moose Jaw, Sask. and Swift Current, Sask. The tournament, as always, began with the announcement of the coaching staff, who in this case, did not have to travel far for the event as the games took place in their home arena’s or close to.
Tim Hunter, head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors, was named bench boss for Team WHL after previously holding the position during the 2016 CIBC Canada Russia Series. Prior to being named Head Coach for Team WHL, Hunter coached his team to a 5-1-0-0 record through their first six games.
Joining Hunter behind the bench were divisional rivals in Manny Viveiros and John Paddock. Viveiros, head coach and Director of Player Development for the Swift Current Broncos, coached his team to a 6-0-0-0 record through there first six games. Paddock, head coach of the Regina Pats, brought his team to a 3-3-1-0 record before joining the coaching staff for Team WHL. The three Trans-Canada Highway rivals teamed up in an attempt to give the CHL two wins before the Russians headed east to play against teams from the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Team WHL once again featured an abundance of NHL prospects, including 13 players selected in the first two rounds of the NHL Draft. A pair of top-10 selections from the 2017 NHL Draft highlight the roster, including Portland Winterhawks forward Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights) and Tri-City Americans forward Michael Rasmussen (Detroit Red Wings).
Team WHL featured 12 forwards, 6 defenceman, and two goaltenders, all of whom were drafted by or signed by NHL teams. Some local talent for Moose Jaw and Swift Current, where the two games were played, included Warriors Captain Brett Howden and the Leagues top scorer for the first half Tyler Steenbergen.
Some later additions due to injuries also saw Swift Current Broncos defenceman Colby Sissons (New Jersey Devils), Moose Jaw Warriors forward Noah Gregor (San Jose Sharks), and Jake Leschyshyn (Vegas Golden Knights) suit up for some action. Broncos import defenceman Artyom Minulin was also in attendance but was playing for Russian squad.
The defence featured three first round selections with Jake Bean (Carolina Hurricanes), Dennis Cholowski (Detroit Red Wings) and Cal Foote (Tampa Bay). The team also featured three-time Del Wilson Memorial Trophy winner and two-time Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart.
The league then announced that Kelowna Rockets forward Dillon Dube would serve as team captain. The Calgary Flames prospect put up 12 points (8G-4A) in 10 games to start the season. Kale Clague, selected by the Los Angeles Kings, was named assistant captain along with Bean and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Howden.
Game one of the series was held in Moose Jaw were Team WHL took a commanding early lead and rode it to a 7-0 victory. Kole Lind of the Kelowna Rockets led the way with two goals and an assist, Clague recorded three assists. Carter Hart turned away all 20 shots that found their way to the net for a shutout.
The first period saw one goal by Lind, assisted by Howden and Clague. The action ramped up in the second when Matthew Phillips, Lind, Howden, and Steenbergen all hit the back of the net to give Team WHL a 5-0 lead heading into the third. The story remained the same when Glass and Dube each hit the twine early in the period to give Team WHL the dominant win.
The team then rode west down the Trans Canada for a rematch in Swift Current the following night.
Game two saw some new faces enter the lineup. Defenceman Colby Sissons (New Jersey Devils) of the Swift Current Broncos replaced an injured Josh Mahura and Regina Pats forward Jake Leschyshyn (Vegas Golden Knights) replaced the injured Brett Howden.
Game two started like the first as the WHL took an early lead 1:27 into the first on a goal from Dube. Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman David Quenneville tripled the lead, scoring two goals in the second period and giving Team WHL a 3-0 lead.
At some point between the 8:33 Quenneville goal and 16:22 mark in the second the momentum began to change. Team Russia scored to make it a two-goal game. Heading into the third it was all Russia as they scored three more times, including a short-handed game-winner to defeat Team WHL 4-3.
Edmonton Oilers prospect Stuart Skinner had the start in net and saved 29 of 33 shots in the loss.
The tournament then shifted to Ontario and Eastern Canada where the OHL and QMJHL each split their games, leaving the CHL and Russia with three wins and three losses a piece. Ultimately, a shootout decided the series, with Canada prevailing in the 15th edition of the event.
As the series came to a close, Dube remained the top scorer from all three teams representing the Canadian Hockey League, posting five points (3G-2A) in two games. Behind him was Steel with four assists and in a four-way tie for third was Lind and Clague.
The series also played a part in setting the stage for Canadian success at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. The four members of Team WHL’s leadership group were joined by Steenbergen, Sam Steel, Foote, and Hart to play for Team Canada. Dube was selected to serve as captain while Clague served as an assistant captain as the eight WHL players teamed up with the other selected players to bring Gold back to Canada on a late game-winning goal by Steenbergen.
The 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series will return to Western Canada where Team WHL will again kickoff the tournament in Kamloops on November 5th before shifting to Vancouver on November 6th.