| With the 2007 Canada-Russia Super Series set to get underway in less than a week, on the eve of training camp in Moscow, a couple of local boys are getting ready to cross the Pacific.
Kyle Turris of New Westminster and Milan Lucic of Vancouver took some time out to share their thoughts on the Canada-Russia rivalry, the original Summit Series, and what it means to play the final game in Vancouver.
If there’s one thing both players want fans in Canada to know, it’s that those expecting eight games of friendly exhibitions should think again – this series won’t be for the faint-at-heart, especially for the players concerned.
EIGHT-GAME GRUDGE MATCH
“It’s going to be extremely emotional and physically draining,” says Turris, the Phoenix Coyotes’ 2007 first-round pick who is one of six B.C.-born players on Team Canada. “The best team is the team that can endure the most.”
The original Summit Series gave fans their first-ever opportunity to see the Canadian top players [playing in the NHL] match up against the enigmatic and highly-acclaimed Soviet national team. This time around, the 2007 Super Series will do the same but on a junior hockey level, facing off the top Under-20 players from both countries in what, essentially, boils down to an eight-game grudge match.
And unlike typical international match-ups where teams meet just once or twice over the course of a tournament, the eight-game format of the Super Series will ensure that the old adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ will be demonstrated in full force on the ice.
“You definitely get a rivalry going if there’s not already one,” believes Turris, who has seen his share of playoff series playing for the Burnaby Express of the BCHL. “By games four and five, you literally start to hate the other team.”
THE BIG RED MACHINE
Like the Summit Series before it, the Super Series is a showcase of what has historically been the fiercest international hockey rivalry in Canadian history. Though some may suggest the United States has surpassed Russia as Canada’s number one hockey adversary in recent years, that thinking isn’t necessarily shared by this group of Canadian juniors.
“I know USA hockey has improved a lot over the years [but] I don’t know if they’ve surpassed Russia yet,” says Lucic, the 2007 Memorial Cup MVP and Boston Bruins draft pick who is looking forward to his first taste of international hockey. “If you look at the World Junior Finals, five of the last six finals have been Canada versus Russia.”
Teammate, Turris, shares similar sentiments, believing that the Super Series will help reaffirm the fact that Russia is still one of Canada’s biggest foes on the ice.
“The Canada-Russia rivalry dates back way further than the Canada-USA rivalry,” notes Turris, whose last run-in with the Russians came in Finland at the 2007 World U-18 Championships back in April. “That’s what [the Super Series] is trying to bring back – that sense that Russia is still one of the number one contenders.”
MAKING CANADIAN HISTORY
Despite being born over a decade after the original Summit Series took place, both Turris and Lucic are aware of the legacy left behind from that series. While they may not have the ability of Miss Cleo, they feel the Super Series could have an equally similar impact on the Canadian hockey landscape, especially with so much history between the two countries’ junior players heading into this series.
“We had a night [with the Vancouver Giants] where we commemorated the ’72 series and we had a few of the players there,” recalls Lucic while rattling off the names of several Summit Series veterans he got to meet, including Marcel Dionne, Yvan Cournoyer and Dennis Hull. “You hear so much about the history and how tough the series was because of the Canada-Russia rivalry they had and I think that rivalry is still alive especially in the junior ranks.”
Not that they need more motivation but with Russia committed to dressing their best possible team, including New York Rangers’ 2007 first round pick Alexei Cherepanov and Vancouver Canucks’ 2007 5th rounder Ilja Kablukov, but the eight-game series format means that luck won’t be a factor, or an excuse, for either team.
The team that prevails will be the one whose will and skill is a cut above the other, and that’s just fine with our boys.
“I think it is good they’re sending their best players to play in this series,” says Lucic, who also admits that the prospect of making history and having bragging rights is a very tantalizing carrot dangling in front of him and his teammates. “When we get older, we want to look back at the time when we played in the Super Series and say ‘hey we won back then.’ I think that’s motivation to win the series.”
Both players are excited about being a part of the next great moment in Canadian hockey and perhaps even being immortalized like Paul Henderson with the ‘goal heard around the world’, which clinched the1972 Summit Series victory for Canada. But there’s one feat from the original Summit Series that neither thinks they will be the one to re-create.
“I don’t know if I’d have the nerve,” replies Turris laughingly when asked if he might take the microphone à la Phil Esposito and address the fans. Although, he did admit later that, “it’d be pretty cool to say ‘hi’ to Vancouver.”
Having the opportunity to suit up for your country is a thrill for any hockey player. For the B.C.-born players on Team Canada’s roster, the Super Series also gives them an opportunity to represent their home province - something that was overlooked during the original Summit Series.
The 1972 Team, dubbed Canada’s Team of the Century, was comprised primarily of players born in Ontario and Quebec and did not include a single B.C.-born player.
Although Vancouver Canucks’ players Dale Tallon and Jocelyn Guevremont were named to the roster - thanks in part to a rule which stated all three Canadian NHL teams (Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver) had to have at least two players on Team Canada - neither appeared in any of the eight games of the Summit Series.
This time around, B.C. is well-represented with Karl Alzner (Burnaby), Colton Gillies (Surrey), Zach Hamill (Port Coquitlam) and Ty Wishart (Comox), who will join Turris and Lucic on Team Canada.
Having the series finale played at General Motors Place in Vancouver, one of only two cities in the Super Series that also hosted a game during the Summit Series (the other being Winnipeg), makes it all that much special for these six players who may not get a chance again, at least in the near future, to play for the home team at GM Place.
As for Turris and Lucic, both intend to make a strong impression playing in front of their hometown fans at GM Place. By the end of the tournament, what will be even more impressive is the unquestionable devotion of the fans’ support of Team Canada, especially in that last game in Vancouver.
“I think we’re going to get a lot of support from the fans because of the impact the ’72 series had,” says Lucic, who has had plenty of experience playing in front of his hometown fans as a Vancouver Giant. “I think there’s a lot of people that still remember that series and I think they’re going to be very supportive especially coming into Vancouver. It’s going to be very lively at GM Place.”
“Having the last game at GM Place is a dream come true,” adds Turris. “It’s going to be amazing.”
2007 Super Series
In a reversal of order from the original Summit Series, the Super Series will hold the first four games in Russia beginning on August 27th before switching over to Canada for Games 5-8 in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Red Deer, and the series final in Vancouver respectively.
All the eight games will be televised on either Rogers Sportsnet or TSN, as well as in French-language on RDS.
In keeping with the tradition of the original Summit Series, the outcome of the games can end in a tie.
The one notable exception is that if the series is tied after game 8 in Vancouver, the game will be decided in sudden death overtime and, if still tied, a shootout as per IIHF regulations.
The pivotal Game #8 of the series will take place on Sunday, September 9th at General Motors Place.
Tickets start at only $17 and are available through Ticketmaster at 604-899-4625 or online at www.ticketmaster.ca.
Fans should also take note of the altered start time of 5:00pm PST.
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