The 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series has come down to two games.
Inheriting a series tied at six points apiece, it will be up to the QMJHL to finish strong after the Western Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League both earned splits against Russia.
Canadian National Junior Team head coach Dominique Ducharme (Drummondville Voltigeurs) takes the Team QMJHL reins tonight in Charlottetown as the Q looks to replicate last year’s performance that included wins in Games 5 and 6 of the series.
“These are really useful games,” Ducharme recently told Prospects Hockey’s Willy Palov. “[We also] watch guys closely everywhere in their leagues, but to see them play at the international level and to see the way they adjust is really valuable.
“It’s not enough just to be good in your own league,” he added. “You have to show you can do it against the best players in the world.”
Team Russia brings that elite international competition to Canadian soil and aside from a 7-0 loss in Game 1 of the series, has provided fierce resistance with a pair of wins in the opening four games.
Bright spots for the Russians offensively have included junior scoring sensation Artyom Manukyan (2-2–4), fleet-footed winger Alexey Polodyan (2-2–4), crafty Chicago Blackhawks prospect Andrey Altybarmakyan (2-1–3) and New Jersey Devils draftee Mikhail Maltsev (2-0–2).
The QMJHL faces a considerable challenge now that the Russians will be adding defending QMJHL scoring champion Vitalii Abramov (Gatineau Olympiques), Philadelphia Flyers first round pick German Rubtsov (Acadie-Bathurst Titan) and Nashville Predators selection Pavel Koltygin (Drummondville Voltigeurs) to their ranks.
Prominent Team QMJHL names in Anaheim Ducks prospects Maxime Comtois (Victoriaville Tigres) and Antoine Morand (Acadie-Bathurst Titan) along with current league scoring leader Drake Batherson (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles) and upstart youngsters like Joe Veleno (Saint John Sea Dogs) not only face a valuable evaluation opportunity, but are offered a chance to learn as well.
“The CIBC Canada Russia Series is very important,” Ducharme noted. “We use it to evaluate the players but we also use it to show them how we want them to play and what we expect from the guys who are going to be on the team.
“You’re watching for guys who are ready to accept that challenge of being the best against another top international team.”
Make no mistake, this QMJHL squad is younger than some of those in years past. Seventeen-year-old phenom Veleno is joined by other 2000-born standouts in fellow former first overall QMJHL Draft pick Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax Mooseheads) and blueliners Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads) and Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst Titan) while 12 different 1999-born players will be given a look as well.
One of those, Arizona Coyotes first round pick Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders), will have a chance to play in front of his many fans in Charlottetown tonight as the series comes to Prince Edward Island for the very first time.
Team QMJHL enters play with three consecutive wins against Russia in the event and an overall record of 16-9-3.
The last leg of the series gets underway tonight when the puck drops at 7:00pm ET/8:00pm AT on Sportsnet East, Ontario and Pacific.