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Kids coming out to play for Team WHL

 

The 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series is just two weeks away, and while it will be hard to top last year’s edition that required a series-determining shootout in Moncton, there’s plenty to get excited about ahead of the event’s 16th instalment.

As has been the case for the past four years, the series will begin in the Western Hockey League as the Kamloops Blazers and Vancouver Giants serve as hosts on November 5th and 6th.

Team WHL split last year’s opening games against Russia, winning 7-0 in Moose Jaw before dropping a 4-3 decision in Swift Current.

While Vegas Golden Knights first round pick Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks), 19-year-old defenceman Josh Brook (Moose Jaw Warriors) and the likely addition of recently returned Los Angeles Kings prospect Jaret Anderson-Dolan (Spokane Chiefs) will be key to the team’s success, Team WHL also features an exciting group of draft eligible prospects on the roster.

Four of the league’s seven ‘A’ rated prospects on NHL Central Scouting’s October Players to Watch List will be in the lineup including defenceman Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants) and forwards Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades) and Nolan Foote (Kelowna Rockets).

“It’s good to have the mix of some younger guys in there because they get the torch passed to them as things go along,” said Tim Hunter (Moose Jaw Warriors), head coach of Canada’s National Junior Team. “There’s a lot of them that have been involved with Hockey Canada before at the Under-17 and Under-18 level and they’re there on their own merits.

“Cozens, Dach and Byram had real good Hlinka-Gretzky tournaments and Foote is off to a great start this season.”

Dach currently sits fourth in WHL scoring with 22 points (7-15–22) for the 8-3-1-0 Saskatoon Blades while Cozens leads the Lethbridge Hurricanes in scoring with 17 points (7-10–17). Foote has nearly a point-per-game with 12 points (7-5–12) while Byram is tied for fourth in scoring among WHL blueliners with 12 points (5-7–12).

In addition to seeing the four NHL Draft targets, Hunter is eager to get another look at several players who attended Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Development Camp this past summer in Kamloops.

It’s fitting that both WHL games take place in British Columbia with this year’s World Junior Tourmanent slated for Vancouver.

“Kamloops is a great hockey town,” Hunter told the WHL Radio Show’s Jon Keen. “We had our showcase there in the summer and we had a great fan turnout there and they had a chance to see some of the players in some of the games. Then we get down to the lower mainland to let some of the Vancouver-area people see what we’re all about.

“We’re going to have the Russian team in our pool this year,” he added, “so it will give us a feel of what they’re all about, what type of players they have and style of play they’re going to play.”

Team WHL features 11 players selected in the opening two rounds of the NHL Draft. In 30 games against Russia all-time, the WHL has played to an overall record of 20-7-1-2.

The series gets underway on Monday November 5th when Kamloops hosts for a record-tying fourth time.

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