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Team WHL Ready to Set The Tone for 2016 CIBC Canada Russia Series
CIBC Canada/Russia Series

The 2016 CIBC Canada Russia Series kicks off Monday night in Prince George, BC as Team WHL looks to get the 14th edition of the annual clash of nations started with a win. Giants forwards Tyler Benson and Ty Ronning will play for Team WHL.

The Canadian Hockey League prevailed with a 15-3 victory by points last year, continuing a see-saw battle with alternating victors dating back to 2009. With an even year upon us, the Russians are bringing a talented squad across the pond, one that features several prominent WHL competitors for games one and two.

“They’re bringing 23 guys over from Russia and they’ll be picking up some talented guys along the way,” said Moose Jaw Warriors head coach Tim Hunter who will guide Team WHL from behind the bench. Hunter coaches Russians Dmitry Zaitsev and Nikita Popugaev in Moose Jaw, both of whom will be competing for Team Russia in the series.

“If having those two guys on the team is any indication, we can expect they’ll be competitive. They have a big defence corps with three experienced goaltenders and some notable names up front.”

Hunter will serve as an assistant coach with the Canadian National Junior Team this December. He will be joined by Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Steve Hamilton on the Team WHL bench.

With several Team WHL players coming off busy weekends with their club teams before making the trek to Prince George for Game 1, Hunter feels the travel and time change will give both teams a challenge to start the series.

“Neither side can really use it as an excuse,” said Hunter. “We’re going to have a light walk through on Monday in Prince George and be ready to go come game time. These guys are much more resilient than you think and they’ll have plenty of energy for a big game on a big stage.”

Team WHL carries an all-time record of 18-6-2 against Russia in the series that dates back to 2003. They swept the two-game set last year for the first time since 2009.

The CIBC Canada Russia Series offers Hockey Canada a tremendous evaluation tool in the lead-up to the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, a highly anticipated annual event that takes place in Toronto and Montreal this December.

While Hunter, fellow National Junior Team assistant coach Kris Knoblauch (Erie Otters) and head coach Dominique Ducharme (Drummondville Voltigeurs) are sure to have a few players returning from last year’s squad that placed sixth in Helsinki, Finland, there are a number of roster spots up for grabs.

The CIBC Canada Russia Series provides a platform for roster hopefuls to make a case for themselves.

“Dom (Ducharme) will be at the games in Prince George and Edmonton,” said Hunter. “There are some players in our lineup that we want to key on who will have a pretty good chance of playing for us come Christmas time, but there are a few others who deserve an opportunity to make their mark and leave an impression.”

The WHL announced on Friday that forwards Nolan Patrick (Brandon Wheat Kings), Dillon Dube (Kelowna Rockets) and Brett Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors) are injured and won’t participate in the series. They’ll be replaced on the roster by New York Rangers prospect Brad Morrison (Prince George Cougars), 19-year-old Arizona Coyotes prospect Lane Pederson (Swift Current Broncos) and 2017 NHL Draft prospect Mason Shaw (Medicine Hat Tigers).

A Team WHL squad consisting of fourteen 1997-born and six 1998-born players gets down to work on Monday in Prince George, a game that will be broadcast across the country at 7:00pm PT/10:00pm ET on Sportsnet.

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