SHERBROOKE, QUE. – The pedal is going to be pressed down immediately as Team QMJHL looks to get an early jump on the Russians tonight in Game 5 of the six-game CIBC Canada Russia Series series.
“The game plan is to come out really, really aggressive and try and use our speed and skill,” said Team QMJHL head coach Jim Hulton, who is also bench boss with the Charlottetown Islanders.
It is the first game for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League squad while the Russians will have played four games against squads in the WHL and OHL before tonight’s puck drop in Sherbrooke, Que.
“The fatigue factor may outweigh any chemistry issues,” Hulton said Monday afternoon. “These Russians kids have flown across the continent, play tonight in Oshawa and have to play right again tomorrow. Any edge they might have had is negated a bit.”
Islanders goalie Matthew Welsh gets the start tonight while Drummondville Voltigeurs goalie Olivier Rodrigue gets the call in his home rink on Thursday. Game time is 8 p.m. Atlantic both nights.
While Team QMJHL had its first practice Monday many of the players are familiar with one another with nine having played in last year’s event. It includes Islanders captain Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Summerside’s Noah Dobson, the captain of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, who played together in last year’s event and will be a tandem to start tonight. The roster also includes former Islanders first-round pick Shawn Boudrias who also played in last year’s competition.
Hulton said the connection was evident during the team’s first practice on Monday.
“The chemistry and the camaraderie are very high because of the familiarity. These kids have crossed paths at a lot of different events,” he said. “They’re all high-level players.”
Canada held a 2-1 series lead heading into Monday’s game in Oshawa, Ont., but all three games have been close. Each team has won 3-1 while the WHL was victorious 2-1 in the opener.
And while a lot is at stake for the teenagers looking to get selected to Canada’s world junior camp, Hulton said it is critical for the youngsters to have fun.
“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “The guys that can get into a comfort zone quickly and play the style they normally play are the ones that have success.”