Canada has high hopes of venturing overseas for the world junior championships this winter - yes, this event does occasionally still take place outside of North America - and reclaiming a title it owned for five glorious years between 2005 and 2009.
The last three tourneys have included tough losses for Canada, with the U.S., Russia and Sweden emerging atop the pile at the conclusion of tough battles in Saskatoon, Buffalo and Calgary/Edmonton.
This year the competition is in Ufa, Russia, and based on the team Russia has sent to the CHL Subway Super Series for six gams against all-star teams from the QMJHL, OHL and WHL, the Russians are hellbent on making sure Canada's mini-drought continues.
The Russians blew out Team QMJHL on Monday night 6-2 in the suburbs of Montreal, a game less one-sided that the score might appear. Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathon Huberdeau and friends had lots of chances, but Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevski was brilliant and much better than his Canadian counterpart, Etienne Marcoux.
And where have we heard that theme before?
Vasilevski, picked 19th overall by Tampa Bay last June, was one of three NHL first round picks on the Russian team that also included Nail Yakupov (1st) and Mikhail Grigorenko (12th). Yakupov and Grigorenko both scored, as did Boston second rounder Alexander Kokhlachev. Koklachev, like Yakupov, returned to Russia this season after playing in the CHL, and the Windsor Spitfires are hot on the trail of bringing him back to their team, either after the Super Series or the world juniors.
Monday's game was just the Super Series opener, and the QMJHL squad may do better Wednesday in Val d'Or before the series switches to a pair of games against OHL teams. Over the past decade, CHL teams have dominated this competition, and the OHL is a perfect 18-0. But two years ago, the Russians won the series for the first time, and last year it was a 3-3 draw. Clearly, they're sending better teams and using this more as a staging ground for the world juniors.
It's not a unified Canadian team taking on Russia, of course, but three split all-star teams, so the measure isn't necessarily accurate. It will be interesting to see how closely this Russian team ends up being to what they put on the ice in Ufa.
One of the overriding concerns - again - will be Canada's goaltending. Marcoux was thought to be a top candidate for Team Canada despite being passed over in the NHL draft last June, but Monday certainly won't help his cause. Belleville's Malcolm Subban and Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oil Kings are other leading contenders, with the selection camp just weeks away.
It's been five years since Canada had the best goalie at the event, and not since Carey Price in 2007 has a Team Canada goalie gone on to become a front-line NHLer. In recent years, good junior goalies like Mark Visentin, Scott Wedgewood, Olivier Roy, Jake Allen and Martin Jones have tried and failed to supply the kind of dominant goaltending Canada had grown used to.
In the Super Series, Zachary Fucale of the Halifax Mooseheads will get the start Wednesday. The OHL will use Subban and St. Louis draftee Jordan Binnington, while Brossoit and Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans will get their shots in the two games out west.
Hockey Canada would love one of those names to emerge. Soon.