CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Think of the CIBC Canada Russia Series as an all-star game of sorts with some of the best major junior hockey players in the world.
That’s how Pierre-Olivier Joseph is looking at it.
The Charlottetown Islanders defenceman is part of a 23-man Quebec Major Junior Hockey League squad taking on a Russian national team in Games 5 and 6 of the annual six-game series between the Russians and the Canadian Hockey League.
Game 5 is tonight, at 8 p.m., at Eastlink Centre. It’s the first time the series has landed on the Island.
“It’s going to be great at home playing for the fans with a group of talented guys. It’s going to really fun playing with these guys. They’re so fast so you have to be ready,” Joseph said after team practice Monday. “The Russians are really, really fast and adjusting really good in the last three games. We have to use our skills and we have to be aggressive.”
The series pits the Russians in two games each against all-star teams from the Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League. This year, the Russians lead 2-1 and played Monday in Sudbury, Ont., against the OHL.
Joseph is the Islanders captain and an assistant captain with the QMJHL team. And the Arizona Coyotes first-round pick at the 2017 NHL draft is right about the Russian adjustments.
Russia lost 7-0 to the WHL in the opener Nov. 6, then recovered with a 4-3 win the next night. It dropped the OHL 5-2 in the first game on Nov. 9.
So Summerside native Noah Dobson, who often paired with Joseph in practice, knows stopping the skilled Russians means digging deep into his defensive bag of tricks.
“They seem to have a pretty strong team, and strong physically but we have to focus on our game and on our style,” said Dobson, who was Acadie-Bathurst’s first round pick in 2016. “Instinct has to take over. Every (team) plays a similar defensive system. You’re here for a reason so instincts have to take over.”
Dobson expects his parent and grandparents, who billet him in Bathurst, N.B., to be at the game.
The six-foot-three blue-liner has 18 points through 22 games this year and is one of four Atlantic Canadians on the roster.
Jared McIssac of Truro, N.S., joins him in the d-corp from the Halifax Mooseheads, goalie Evan Fitzpatrick (Sherbrooke) is from St. John’s, N.L., and Mika Cyr, who hails from Sainte-Anne-de-Madawaska, N.B., is tied for the Moncton Wildcats scoring lead with 27 points.
The games also attract pro scouts by the dozens. A good thing for many on the roster who are in their NHL draft year, are draft eligible or have already been selected.
One on those draft eligibles, Shawn Boudrias, an Islanders first rounder in 2015, comes back to the Link with the Q squad after being traded last year to Gatineau as Charlottetown beefed up for a long playoff run.
And he’s ready for the spectacle and the return to Charlottetown.
“It feels pretty good to be back here, pretty good to play in front of the (Charlottetown) fans again,” said Boudrias, who’s fourth in scoring on the Olympiques with 14 points. “The Russians are more aggressive this year, they’re getting used to the North American game. We’re representing the Q and it’s a good league that can compete with anyone.”
The final game of the series is Thursday in Moncton, N.B. Start time is 8 p.m.
Who Are These Guys?
Rosters for the QMJHL and Russian national team for Game 5 of the CIBC Canada Russia Series Thursday in Charlottetown.
Goaltenders: Evan Fitzpatrick (Sherbrooke Phoenix); Samuel Harvey (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies).
Defence - Jocktan Chainey, Jared McIsaac (Halifax); Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst); Zachary Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda); Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown); Antoine Crete-Belzile (Blainville-Boisbriand); Simon Benoit (Shawinigan); Thomas Gregoire (Sherbrooke).
Forwards - Nicolas Guay (Drummondville); Pascal Laberge, Maxime Comtois (Victoriaville); Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Peter Abbandonato (Rouyn-Noranda); Drake Batherson (Cape Breton); Arnaud Durandeau, Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax); Shawn Boudrias (Gatineau); Joel Teasdale (Blainville-Boisbriand); Mika Cyr (Moncton); Antoine Morand (Acadie-Bathurst); Joe Veleno (Saint John).
Head Coach - Dominique Ducharme (Drummondville head coach).
Assistant Coaches - Jim Hulton (Charlottetown head coach); Darren Rumble (Moncton head coach).
Goaltenders - Alexey Melnichuk; Mikhail Berdin (Sioux Falls, USHL); Vladislav Sukhachev.
Defence - Dmitry Alexeyev; Alexander Kalinin; Alexander Shepelev; Artyom Minulin (Swift Current, WHL); Egor Zaitzev; Daniil Kurashov; Nikolay Knyzhov; Nikita Makeyev; Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer, WHL); Artyom Maltsev; Anatoly Elizarov; Dmitri Samorukov (Guelph, OHL).
Forwards - Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL); Ivan Romanov; Damir Rakhimullin; Artyom Manukyan; Vitalii Abramov (Gatineau); Georgy Ivanov; Mikhail Maltsev; Maxim Altybarmakyan; German Rubtsov (Acadie-Bathurst); Daniil Veryaev; Pavel Koltygin (Drummondville); Danila Moiseyev; Alexey Polodyan; Vladislav Kara; Alexey Lipanov (Barrie, OHL); Maxim Rasseykin.
Head Coach - Valery Bragin
Assistant Coaches - Yury Babenko, Oleg Bratash.