Written by: Jesse Michael
Victory is within reach for Team WHL once again this year as they have the chance to clinch the win for the CHL in the 2011 SUBWAY® Super Series.
The storyline is the same as last year. Team QMJHL lost the first two in Quebec, while Team OHL ran their undefeated streak to 18 games, defeating the Russians in games three and four.
This time the scene shifts to Regina, home of the Pats, for game five on Wednesday, followed by Moose Jaw, home of the Warriors, for the sixth and deciding game on Thursday evening.
Last year, with the series tied 2-2 heading out west, Team WHL could have wrapped up game five and sent the CHL on their way to another series victory, but the pesky Russians, lead by Sergei Kalinin, fought back from a 6-3 deficit in the third period to win in a shootout.
“I think the first game in Kamloops we had an opportunity to win on two separate occasions,” said Assistant Coach of Team WHL Ryan Huska. “We built up three-goal leads on different occasions and ended up giving them away.”
Riding the momentum from that win, the Russians went into Prince George and dominated Team WHL from the puck drop and with a hat-trick from Stanislav Bocharov, won easily 5-2, capturing their first SUBWAY® Super Series title.
But the focus has shifted to this year and chance at redemption.
“It’s getting off to a good start and playing a solid 60 minutes,” said Team WHL and World Junior Head Coach Don Hay. “I think there’s a big challenge there for all the kids involved and the coaching staff, but I know everyone will be really excited to have the opportunity to play against the Russians.”
One thing that has caught the attention of the coaching staff this year has been the use of the stretch pass and “fleeing the zone” on behalf of the Russians, something that has helped them catch the opposition sleeping at times.
“If it was my team, and someone left the zone when the puck was in our end, I probably wouldn’t be too happy,” said Hay. “But that’s the way they play the game and we have to be aware of that.”
Hay believes there are ways to get around the Russians’ sly attack.
“The more you have the puck, the less that they can do that,” Hay said. “It’s important for us to be strong with the puck in their zone, not have any turnovers, try to be as physical as possible and force their defenseman so they can’t make those passes.”
Huska agreed with Coach Hay’s sentiments.
“You can’t allow yourself to have a mental lapse while the game is being played,” he said. “I think you have to make sure you’re capitalizing on your opportunities offensively and you’re playing in deep in their zone as much as you can.”
Huska does caution that it can happen, and that it’s up to the players to know when to pinch, and when to hang back.
“Our defensemen have to be very aware of one of their players leaving or sneaking in behind them,” he said. “You don’t want to give up that odd-man rush or breakaway that could change the flow of the game.”
Regina Pats’ forward Jordan Weal, who will suit up in both games for Team WHL, believes that they will have learned from last year’s meltdown.
“We have guys with more experience going into this year,” Weal said. “Last year we had a lead in the first game going into the third and let that slip. Hopefully we can learn from the mistakes and get some wins.”
As was the story at the outset of the SUBWAY® Super Series, Team WHL will get their shot at redemption beginning in Regina on Wednesday night.
Game five can be seen live on Sportsnet at 7pm CST, while game six goes Thursday night on Sportsnet at 7pm CST.