Saturday, May 19, 2007

Canada - Russia showdown set for fall

This article almost slipped through our radar, what with the emphasis on the NHL playoffs earlier this week; however, we finally got caught up on our reading list and find that it’s an idea that should be welcomed by hockey fans across the country.

The contestants will be a little younger than the last time, but the emotion and passion will no doubt be much the same, as Canada’s top junior players under the age of 20 will compete with Russia’s best, in a replay of sorts of the historic Canada Russia series of 1972.

The 35 th anniversary of that iconic Canadian moment takes place this summer and to commemorate the series that change our perception of hockey forever, Hockey Canada plans on another eight game series to capture the imagination of hockey fans everywhere.

Like 35 years ago, the tournament will feature four games in Russia and four games in Canada, though this time around the tournament will start in Russia and finish up on Canadian soil.

The four Canadian cities have yet to be selected, early on there had been some thought given to hosting those games in CHL arenas, but considering the high interest that Junior hockey receives in Canada and the international flavour of the games it’s expected that the largest cities and the largest venues will get the nod as hosts.

Junior Hockey interest is at it’s highest in Canada, the World Junior games year in and year out attract their largest audiences both in the arenas and on TV in Canada, the nature of this tournament suggests that it should be an outstanding success.

No details have been announced yet as to which network will be given the rights to the games, but which ever network gets the nod will be receiving an unexpected win fall of eyeballs just as the summer holidays come to an end.

Canada, Russia to play U-20 Summit Series
Last Updated: Saturday, May 12, 2007 1:28 PM ET
CBC Sports

Call it the Junior Summit Series.

In commemoration of the 35th anniversary of one of the most revered events in hockey history, Canada and Russia will assemble their best hockey players under age 20 to meet in an eight-game series this August and September.

As in 1972, each country will host four games. But this time, the order will be flipped, with Russia getting the first four games and Canada the final four.

While it's impossible to replicate the drama and tension surrounding the original Cold War era Summit Series, which Canada won on Paul Henderson's famous goal late in Game 8 in Moscow, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson believes the new event will carry plenty of importance for the youngsters involved.

"You can't recreate '72, it's something that is etched in stone in our country and in Russia," Nicholson said Saturday. "We want to create something new for the young boys that play the game."

The Canadian host cities have yet to be confirmed. The original plan was to hold the games in Canadian Hockey League buildings, but that could change.

"We've looked at all various sites," said Nicholson. "If it builds the way we think it will build, we'll go the biggest buildings we can so more people can see it."

Russians will send their best

The first games of the series will be Aug. 27 and 29 in Ufa, which is about 1,300 kilometres east of Moscow. Games 3 and 4 will be Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in Omsk, which is another 1,300 kilometres east of that.

The games in Canada will be played in four different cities on Sept. 4, 6, 8 and 9, making for plenty of travel in a short period of time.

"The key for us is making sure that we have good transportation for the players," said Nicholson. "This is going to be tough on the players. We realize that."

One concern that has been alleviated is the worry over Russia's recent failure to send its top young players to similar events.

The ADT Canada-Russia Challenge, held annually in six cities across Canada since 2003, has been plagued by weak Russian teams. The Canadians have won 21 of 24 games over the four years.

The Russians say that won't happen with this one-time event.

"We are going to test the best players," said Vladislav Tretiak, president of the Russian Hockey Federation. "I think it will be very important to them because they've never played in such a series of games."

Heated rivalry

The 55-year-old Tretiak, who tended goal for the then Soviet Union team in the original Summit Series and is now an elected member of the State Duma in Russia, had been at the forefront of a proposal to re-enact the Summit Series using the best professional players from each country. The NHL, though, nixed the idea.

While a matchup of top pros would have made for a more highly anticipated series, the under-20 version has the potential to be more hotly contested based on the countries' recent rivalry.
Canada's under-20 team has won the last three world junior championships by beating the Russians in the gold-medal game. Russia beat Canada in the final in 2002 and 2003.

"We have the strongest teams," said Tretiak.

Hockey Canada will conduct interviews in Vancouver during the Memorial Cup later this month for the coaching job. Nicholson says it hasn't been decided if that person will later coach the world junior team that heads to the Czech Republic in December.

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