The Subway Super Series officially kicked off with a bang this past week, as top level junior Russian players took on some of the top talent from the QMJHL. The Subway Series is a mini tournament of sorts that sees some of the best junior talent from Russian come over and take a shot at some of the best Canadian talent spread throughout the QMJHL, OHL and CHL. It's a great tournament that truly showcases some of the great Canadian and Russian talent available and eventually heading to the NHL. For fans it's a chance to see more top level players than one would at the World Junior Championship in December and a chance to prove that our talent is deep and we are still the best hockey players in the world. The series this year will feature 86 players from across the 3 Canadian hockey leagues, of course there are 7 players donning Russian colours that play on Canadian teams during the season which attests to the talent available in the junior leagues.
The Russians wrapped up their 2 game series with the top players from the QMJHL on Wednesday evening and the series ended in a tie, with each team winning a game. Russia came out hot and won the first game in convincing fashion 6-2. But the boys from the "Q" came out on Wednesday and showed they wouldn't be out played in front of their home crowd and beat the Russians 5-2. The 2 game mini-series featured some fantastic junior talent from both sides; Key performers from the "Q" included Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Huberdeau, who both put up 4 points in game 2 and sit 1st and 3rd respectively in scoring amongst all players thus far in the series. For the Russians, Buffalo Sabres first round draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko turned some heads in game one and has put up a respectable 2 points. In addition to Grigorenko, the first overall pick Nail Yakupov has not disappointed having contributed 3 points. The action between the two rivals was fantastic, providing hockey deprived fans some highlight reel plays.
Next up the Russians will take on the All-Stars from the OHL for a 2 game mini-series and will face even tougher competition, perhaps the stiffest competition throughout the 6 games. Suiting up on the OHL side are many top ranked draft picks and some solid prospects. Max Domi, Mark Scheifele, Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton will not go down quietly. The 3rd game of the mini-series kicks off on Thursday night, it will be interesting to see how the Russians (who have already played 2 games) will fare against the OHL players who have yet to suit up for the mini-series. Will the Russians be tired? Will the Canadian boys be ready to go?
After a 2 game stint against the OHL players, the Russians will be heading west to take on the WHL All-Stars, for the final 2 games. Once again it will be no easy task facing off against the Western Canadian boys, who boast a very strong defencive line up. Ryan Murray, Morgan Reilly, Matt Dumba and Griffin Reinhart all play a sound defencive game.
Now you may be thinking; "Why have a series between the long time rivals without a trophy, what are they playing for pride?" In a sense yes they are playing for pride. There's a long time discussion that dates back well before these young stars were even born, on which players are better; The Canadians or the Russians. Neither side wants to lose the mini-series and look like the weaker team, especially heading into a very important draft year for many of these young men. You don't want a team to draft someone who beat you ahead of you and in the same sense you don't want him to have your spot in the draft.
More so for the 86 Canadian players, they are playing for a chance to represent their country at the previously mentioned World Junior Championship. For many it's their last chance to impress before camp or to even earn an invite to camp and a chance to play in the tournament. The tournament is key for the development of the young prospects as all eyes, including scouts, are focused on the juniors.
They are also playing for a chance to improve themselves before the draft. For some of the younger and draft eligible players it's an opportunity to show that they can compete against NHL ready talent and are ready to make that leap to the next level. At the end of the day, this mini-series means more to these young men than most can imagine.
If you're starving for some high level hockey or are depressed there is no hockey, open your eyes there's hockey all around you. Tune in and show the Canadian junior's some support on their quest against the Russians. You'll get to watch some pretty darn good hockey.