December 2, 2009
Super Series super staleAnnual showdown against Russians has lost its lustre
By RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA
Sorry, David Branch, but this Canada-Russia "Super" Series stuff has gone stale.
The invitees to the Canadian world junior hockey team's selection camp are being announced today.
Branch, the OHL commissioner and Canadian Hockey League president, is to be on hand in Saskatoon and no doubt the just-wrapped seventh annual Subway Super Series will be hailed as one of the key stages on which Hockey Canada's sharp scouts eyed the upcoming gold-medal talent.
But what kind of test it provides the Canadian players is up for discussion.
Normally, the Russians have about half of their upcoming world junior roster represented.
It shows -- the combined record for Team OHL, Team WHL and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League squad in the series is 36-6.
That's not quite Harlem Globetrotters vs. Washington Generals, but it's close.
Consider the Quebec league owns five of those losses and the OHL's Canadian all-stars are a perfect 14-0 against the Russians while the WHL is 13-1 all-time.
The Russian team went 0-6 this time around.
Most importantly, the series wasn't as easily available to view on Rogers Sportsnet as it has been in the past.
So what's the solution?
Clearly, the event won't get dropped from the CHL calendar.
Yes, Branch and Co. deserve kudos for working a deal to get the Russians to come over every season.
And no, switching to Sweden, Finland or the Slovaks isn't going to make much of a difference.
But the easy answer already is right here.
The United States clearly is the more interesting foe.
Especially the way the three major junior leagues have evolved, several top U.S. players are already on CHL rosters.
Canada-United States certainly has the cache.
How cool would it have been a few weeks back for Windsor fans to see Canada's Taylor Hall bearing down on Spitfires teammate Cam Fowler of a U.S. squad?
Both will be top NHL picks next June.
Kitchener rink rats would, no doubt, have loved to watch who got the puck in a corner battle between Rangers' snipers Jeff Skinner and Jeremy Morin.
Or a few years back, London Knights linemates Sam Gagner (Canadian) and Pat Kane (American) would've had the platform to go head-to-head in two interested OHL buildings.
And that interest would be easily expandable to every rink across the CHL.
It's pretty tough to sell the Canada-Russia Super Series in Saginaw, Mich., Spokane, Wash., or Lewiston, Maine.
But Canada-U.S. can be done.
Of course, the rosters likely would have to be CHL exclusive unless an arrangement could be worked out with USA Hockey.
The CHL and NCAA already arm-wrestle over their players.
U.S. college coaches won't hand-deliver their promising young talent right to the devil's pulpit.
But there's enough U.S. star power across the three CHL leagues to cobble together a club that probably could do better than 6-36 in a seven-year stretch.
And there would be value in it for USA Hockey. If it sent a scout to a London-Kitchener game on a Tuesday night last month to watch U.S. world junior hopefuls such as Phil McRae, Morin, Brandon Maxwell and John Moore, a gathering of all those guys on the same team against quality opposition is even more beneficial.
Does playing against Russians help the Canadian players adjust to the international game?
Well, the world juniors is increasingly a North American event.
It was in Ottawa last year. It's in Saskatoon and Regina next month. It'll be in Buffalo for 2011.
If that's the trend, then a
Canada-U.S. series would be, without doubt, super.
The book on ...
Michael Houser, G, London Knights
No one expected this.
Houser, a 17-year-old rookie from Wexford, Penn. (near Pittsburgh), started his OHL career with five straight victories and allowed three or fewer goals in his first nine starts.
London GM Mark Hunter signed the 6-foot-2, 180-pound gem as a free agent this past summer. The unregarded Houser had put up solid numbers for a bottom-feeding United States Hockey League team in Des Moines.
"Now, there are NHL scouts calling to find out when he's going to play next so they can come watch him," Knights goalie coach Bill Dark said. "It's a credit to Mark that he found him and a credit to Michael for all his hard work."
10 7-2-1 2.59 0.915
GP Record GAA Sv.%
Strengths: Houser has that Grant Fuhr-like ability to come up huge late in a game when his team needs an important save. That's an unteachable," Dark said. "Nothing fazes Michael. If he lets in a bad one, he doesn't worry about it and he moves on."
Weaknesses: He has been working on his lateral movement lately and his puck-handling skills are better. With veteran Boston Bruins prospect Michael Hutchinson demanding big crease minutes in London, Houser's biggest challenge will be staying ready if he goes a week-and-a-half or so without playing.
Rating four out of five