The 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series wraps up Thursday with Game 6 featuring Team WHL and Team Russia. Here are 10 things you need to know ahead of puck drop:
Series at a glance: Entering Thursday’s series-deciding game, Team WHL holds an 8-7 points advantage and can cap the series with a regulation victory or by picking up two points in extra time. Meanwhile, a Russian regulation victory would tilt the series in their favour, while Russia winning in extra time would tie the event at nine points and set up a series-deciding shootout. The series has once previously been decided in the shootout when Team QMJHL prevailed against Russia in 2017. Entering Game 6, Team WHL holds an all-time mark of 22-8-1-2, while Russia stands at 35-61-2-3.
Russian repeat: After coming away with an 11-7 points advantage a year ago, Team Russia has the chance to win it all in back-to-back years for the first time in event history. In all, Russia has previously won the series four times, all coming since 2010.
Record-setting year: The 17th edition of the annual series has been a tightly-knit affair as three games have required extra time in order to decide a winner – a series first. Additionally, four of the first five games were decided by one goal, the first such occurrence since 2013.
Packed barns: Fans across Canada have continued to show their enthusiasm as the series has seen its best performance at the gate since an exceptional showing in its 2003 inauguration. In all, Game 1 drew 5,690 in Saint John, Game 2 saw 5,889 in Moncton, Game 3 drew 7,436 in Kitchener, Game 4 saw 7,873 in London, and Game 5 brought in 7,425 in Saskatoon. In 2003, the six-game series drew a total of 37,927 fans, while 2019 has attracted 34,313 through five games.
Return to Prince Albert: For the second time in event history, the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series returns to Prince Albert after last hosting in 2008, a contest which saw Team WHL come away with a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from forwards Kyle Beach (Everett Silvertips) and Zach Boychuk (Lethbridge Hurricanes). Additionally, Thursday night will also see former Raiders forward Cole Fonstad make his return to Prince Albert following a mid-October deal that made him a member of the Silvertips. The Montreal Canadiens prospect was a part of last year’s Raiders squad that hoisted the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the first time since 1985.
Prairie pride: Saskatchewan will be well represented in Game 6 as seven players from Team WHL hail from the province, including Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman and 2020 NHL Draft hopeful Braden Schneider, a product of Prince Albert.
Defensively responsible: Team WHL’s strength is its back end, and that much was evident in Game 5 as rearguards Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants/Colorado Avalanche) and Calen Addison (Lethbridge Hurricanes/Pittsburgh Penguins) provided the offense while Saskatoon Blades netminder Nolan Maier shined in the crease in turning aside 25 shots en route to the overtime victory. In Game 6, Team WHL has tapped Portland Winterhawks goaltender and St. Louis Blues up-and-comer Joel Hofer to lead the CHL to victory.
World Junior evaluation: While regular season play in the coming weeks will also factor in to who makes up the Canadian squad at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, Thursday offers up the final opportunity for players to shine under the national spotlight. Last year, six WHL talents joined Team Canada at the world juniors.
Prospect central: A total of 62 NHL prospects are competing in the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series, with 28 of the 31 NHL clubs represented by at least one player. The Vegas Golden Knights lead the way with five, followed by the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues each at four. In Game 6, the Vancouver Canucks lead the way with three NHL prospects, including Calgary Hitmen teammates Carson Focht and Jett Woo in addition to Russian forward Vasili Podkolzin.
2020 NHL Draft hopefuls: Several prospects earmarked for the 2020 NHL Draft are competing in the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series, including Schneider and current WHL leading scorer Connor Zary of the Kamloops Blazers, both of whom project as first-round candidates in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch report for November.