Written by Jesse Michael for the Canadian Hockey League
When the SUBWAY Super Series shifts to the WHL for the final leg of its 10th anniversary, the scenario is going to feel extremely familiar for the Western Hockey League stars.
Even with Team OHL pulling out a victory on Monday night to even the series with the Russian National Junior Team, Team WHL still has to do the job of finding four of the remaining six points in order to win the series for the entire Canadian Hockey League.
Red Deer Rebels defenceman, and SUBWAY Super Series veteran, Matt Dumba, believes that the game plan does not change no matter what the outcome is in the other two leagues.
“In the WHL we’re focused on what we do and wanting to win,” he said. “We need to continue to prove that the CHL is a great route [for players] and we have some great guys that want to win this. I don’t think it has anything to do with what the other leagues do.”
One thing Team WHL hopes separates them from the QMJHL and OHL this season is their depth on defence they will employ for both games five and six.
That list includes the five defencemen selected in the Top 8 of the 2012 NHL EntryDraft: Ryan Murray (EVT, 2nd overall – Columbus Blue Jackets); Griffin Reinhart (EDM, 4th overall - New York Islanders); Morgan Rielly (MJ, 5th overall - Toronto Maple Leafs); Mathew Dumba (RD, 7th overall - Minnesota Wild) and Derrick Pouliot (POR, 8th overall - Pittsburgh Penguins).
“They’re bonafide players offensively and good defenders back there for other situations like shut down situations and reliable penalty killers,” said Team WHL Coach Don Nachbaur of the Spokane Chiefs. “They’re mostly all first round draft picks, and we’ll build our team game around them. I feel they’re strong defensively, and that’s a major strength of our team.”
Another advantage that Team WHL will have is the heavy cross Canada flight that the Russians will have to endure when they leave Sarnia after game four on Monday, and arrive in Vancouver on Tuesday with game five scheduled for Wednesday night.
“From our league standpoint we have the types of players that enjoy the physical style of game so we aren’t going to go out there and play that east-west format,” Nachbaur said. “If we manage the puck properly and be physical, we feel we can take advantage of their travel schedule and the games they’ve already played.”
Some of the bigger forwards on Team WHL include Winnipeg Jets 3rd round draft pick in 2011, Adam Lowry, who will captain Team WHL in Victoria, and Chicago Blackhawks 2011 first round pick Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders who nearly cracked Team Canada’s roster one year ago.
But Nachbaur believes they also have plenty of fire power, boasting many of the WHL’s top scorers including JC Lipon and Colin Smith (Kamloops Blazers), and Michael St. Croix (Edmonton Oil Kings).
These skilled forwards won’t be the focal point of their attack however; as Nachbaur feels that their game will start at the back end, allowing them to control the pace.
“We have to be attentive to the way we manage pucks,” he said. “If you get stuck watching they jump guys in behind you, and if that happens we’re going to have to get on our horse and make sure we get back to our end. Most of our defencemen have international experience and played on the summer team so they should know that.”
And while Nachbaur will have the luxury of coaching some of the CHL’s top players, including 2013 NHL Draft Eligible players Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat) and Curtis Lazar (Edmonton Oil Kings), he is also excited to be behind the bench with a few guys he’s used to facing on opposing benches.
“Just getting to coach with Derek Laxdal, Don Hay, Dave Lowry,” he said. “They’re all knowledgeable guys and we have a pretty good staff.”
As for how the coaching staff is going to handle the goaltenders, Nachbaur said that he knows who his game five starter is going to be, but doesn’t know if he will play the entire game.
“[Laurent] Brossoit is in the mix as being one of the top guys in the West [Conference] last year having anchored his team to the Mastercard Memorial Cup,” he said. “He has international experience with the summer team that went over to Russia, and he’s also on the radar for Hockey Canada. We expect big things out of him.”
Game five can be seen live on Sportsnet and the NHL Network in the United States, Wednesday, November 14 from Vancouver, with Game six set for Thursday, November 15, in Victoria. Fans can also watch the games live online with details at www.subwaysuperseries.ca.