2010 Subway Series, OHL preview

By Jason Menard

Back in 2003 the inaugural game of the Re/Max Canada-Russia Challenge was played in the City of London. Seven years (and three sponsors) later, the tournament returns to the Forest City for the first time since that opening match as Team OHL hopes to continue its dominance over the Russian select squad at the Subway Super Series.

The Super Series is a six-game tournament that pits top CHL prospects against a Russian squad comprised of Russian players from leagues based on both sides of the Atlantic. The two OHL games represent the mid-point of the tournament, beginning on Nov. 11th with a match in London, ON, then returning to Sudbury, ON on Nov. 15th for the first time since 2007.

The OHL remains the only league in the CHL that has yet to lose a contest to the visiting Russian squad, and the players comprising Team OHL hope to remain ungracious hosts. The OHL representatives have won all 14 games, outscoring the Russians by a margin of 66-24.

This year, the OHL has loaded up with some of the league’s top offensive talent, while maintaining a solid defensive core for the two games. Only five players will appear in both games, with three of them comprising half of Team OHL’s blueline crew: Jesse Blacker (TOR) of the Owen Sound Attack and the Kingston Frontenacs’ Taylor Doherty (SJ) and Erik Gudbranson (FLA).

While it’s true that the OHL’s success in this tournament may add a fair bit of pressure as no team wants to be the first to lose to the visiting Russians, a combination of offensive depth, veteran blue line presence, and elite goaltending should hold Team OHL in good stead for their two-game section of the series.

Goaltending

Three of the league’s top-five goaltenders will take part in the Subway Series. The first game will likely see Owen Sound’s Scott Stacjer (NYR) get the nod over Scott Wedgewood (NJ) of the Plymouth Whalers. Stacjer has been dominant for the powerful Attack this year, heading into the game with a 9-2 record with a 2.65 goals against average. Wedgewood brings a more modest 3.00 goals against average and 7-5-0-1 record into the tournament.

When the series switches to Sudbury the coaching staff has the luxury of starting the league’s top netminder — Mississauga St. Mike’s JP Anderson. Anderson has posted three shutouts en route to a 10-2 record, a 2.01 goals against average and a stellar .926 save percentage. He’ll be ably backed up by the Niagara IceDogs’ Mark Visentin (PHO), who is currently fifth in the league with a 2.69 goals against average and has built up a 6-3-1-2 record so far this season.

Defense

As mentioned, a trio of blueliners will suit up for Team OHL in both games: Blacker, Doherty, and Gudbranson.

The blueline corps will be led by Gudbranson — the third-overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers. The 6’3 blueliner is off to his best offensive season to date, accounting for eight points in 14 games this season and well on pace to exceed his OHL high of 23 points.

He’s joined by Frontenacs’ teammate Doherty, a second-round selection of the San Jose Sharks in 2009 and Blacker, a second-round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009, who will not only get the chance to play in front of current teammate Stajcer in London; he’ll also be able to reconnect with an old friend in the form of former teammate — and fellow Memorial Cup champion Ryan Ellis (NAS) when the series shifts to Sudbury.

The squad in London will include a pair of 2011 NHL draft eligibles — the hometown Knights’ Scott Harrington and Kitchener Ranger Ryan Murphy, who is currently tied for second overall in OHL scoring. Both players are projected to be early-round selections in the 2011 draft, with Murphy displaying top-10 talent.

Rounding out the blue line in London? None other than former member of Team Canada’s WJC entry and first-round draft choice of the New York Islanders, Calvin de Haan.

In Sudbury, Tampa Bay Lightning’s third-round selection in the 2010 draft, Brock Beukeboom joins Blacker, Doherty, and Gudbranson. He’ll be joined by another first-round selection in the form of the aforementioned Ellis (selected 11th overall by Nashville in 2009 and, like de Haan, a member of last year’s silver-medal-winning Team Canada entry at the WJC).

Completing the roster will be 2011 draft-eligible blue liner Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs, who has accounted for 12 points in 17 games and leads Niagara with an impressive plus-10 rating.

Forwards

Only Owen Sounds’ Joey Hishon and Kingston’s Ethan Werek will appear in both OHL games. Hishon, a 2010 first-round selection of the Colorado Avalanche, and Werek, a second-round selection of the New York Rangers, bring offensive flair to the roster as both have scored 11 goals apiece so far in this young OHL season — albeit, Hishon’s have come in nine games due to an extended call-up with the NHL’s Avalanche.

Both days’ rosters are peppered with NHL-drafted prospects and only a handful are eligible for the 2011 draft including Ryan Strome and Matt Puempel for the Sudbury game, and Michael MacDonald and Lucas Lessio in the London-based contest.

The club also features a pair of other first-round NHL selections in the guise of Peter Holland (ANH) and Zack Kassian (BUF), who will play in London and Sudbury respectively. The OHL team as added some local content to the rosters for each game: MacDonald and Harrington, of the London Knights, will suit up at the John Labatt Centre, while Marcus Foligno (BUF) and John McFarland (FLA) will take to the ice in Sudbury arena.

Team OHL features several of the league’s top-10 goal scorers and top-20 point producers. Garrett Wilson (FLA), the OHL’s leading goal scorer with 18, will appear in London, where he be joined by a trio of 12-goal scorers (tied for fifth overall) with Holland, Michael Latta (NAS), and Tyler Toffoli (LA). Rounding out the roster are 11-goal-scorers Ryan Martindale (EDM) and Werek. In Sudbury, Hishon, and Werek will be joined by 11-goal scorers (tied for ninth overall) Foligno and Justin Shugg (CAR).

Coaching

Team OHL was compiled by a selection committee that was led by Stan Butler, Brampton’s general manager and head coach, and London Knights’ general manager Mark Hunter. They worked with Hockey Canada’s head scout Kevin Prendergrast to define the roster and they’ve established an equally impressive presence behind the bench for both games.

Belleville’s George Burnett and Mississauga’s Dave Cameron will be behind the bench for both games. In London, they’ll be joined by the reigning OHL coach of the year Dale Hunter, while in Sudbury, the Wolves’ Trent Cull will be the third man standing.

Russians

While Team OHL is loaded for full bore in the two-game tournament, the Russians won’t be coming in firing blanks. In London, Sarnia Sting import — and the OHL’s second-leading scorer — Nail Yakupov will be joining the roster, where he’ll also be joined by a pair of London Knights in goaltender Igor Bobkov (ANH) and 2011 draft-eligible forward Vladislav Namestnikov (21 points in his OHL rookie campaign), as well as the Guelph Storm’s Andrey Pedan. Saginaw Spirit forward and Atlanta Thrashers prospect Ivan Telegin (26 goals last year; 16 points in 18 games this campaign) will be added to the Russian roster for the Sudbury game. In total, seven Russians will be making a return engagement as part of the Super Series, including the aforementioned Namestnikov, two-time player-of-the-game Bobkov, and the top-scoring Russian from last year (and L.A. Kings draft pick) Maxim Kitsyn.