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Hockey fans got an early fix, but another Super Series unlikely

NHL.com @NHL

(CP) - The Super Series was an appetizer for the hockey-starved in this country after a long summer and it also showed Canada's junior team is tuned and humming like a Formula One car.

But even if the series had been closer, it was never going to grip Canada like the 1972 Summit Series. It needed each country's best - Chris Pronger, Sidney Crosby, Martin Brodeur, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin - to be in it, for any chance of that happening.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson wasn't complaining about how the junior series was received in this country, however.

Even though Canada had it almost won before it even got here, buildings were full or nearly full for the four home games across Western Canada.

The Canadian dates drew 13,563 spectators in Winnipeg, 10,800 in Saskatoon, 7,000 in Red Deer and 18,630 to GM Place in Vancouver for Sunday's Game 8.

There isn't going to be another junior series celebrating 1972 any time soon and perhaps never.

"We said this would be a one-off," Nicholson said. "We wanted to show respect to '72 and we did that.

"We did it because we wanted to compare our two systems and know where our team is."

You'd need a long tape measure after this Super Series, which Canada dominated for a 7-0-1 record.

Russia's Sport Express said Monday that Canada's junior team was "head and shoulders above Russia."

While Hockey Canada can feel serene about their state of the under-20 program, heads may roll in Russia over that team's performance.

This series was the idea of Vladislav Tretiak, a legendary Soviet goalie and the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.

He likely never dreamed his team would get swept in the first four games at home. Russia needed at least a win or two to have any confidence when they arrived in Canada.

Sergei Nemchinov, a former NHL player and two-time Stanley Cup winner, was a rookie coach of the junior team and his inexperience contrasted starkly with the genius of Canada's Brent Sutter, who is undefeated in 20 games as coach of the junior team.

The Canadians were playing Sutter's game within 15 minutes of the start of Game 1, while the Russians were unorganized and undisciplined throughout, not in terms of taking penalties, but in adhering to a system.

"It's opened eyes, what we need to do. We knew before, but this series proved it," Nemchinov said.

The Canadian players sacrificed the end of their summer, tired themselves out for their NHL and junior club training camps and risked serious injury to play in this series.

Forward Claude Giroux of the Gatineau Olympiques said he'd do it all again.

"This was an opportunity for us to show the world what Canada can do," he said. "Just being able to be part of this team, I'll probably remember it the rest of my life.

"To put that jersey on was the best feeling I've ever had."

Added Calgary Hitmen defenceman Karl Alzner: "I think there's a couple benefits to this. One, to see once and for all where we matched up with Russia in this age group, and we had a really well-oiled machine compared to them. Two, for the guys, going to NHL camps, I think this is the best preparation possible."

The majority of players on this team will try for the country's fourth straight gold medal at the world junior hockey championship starting Dec. 26 in the Czech Republic.

"Being here really helps that team's chances and when that team is picked, they're going to be tighter because of this experience," Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman Thomas Hickey said.

Canada's three goalies were far and away better than Russia's and the stock of Steve Mason of the London Knights shot up in this series.

It will be a tight battle between him, Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs and Leland Irving of the Everett Silvertips as to which one will start for Canada at the world junior championship.

Forwards Giroux, Kyle Turris, who is headed to the University of Wisconsin, and Sutter's son Brandon of the Red Deer Rebels were standouts at both ends of the ice and on special teams.

Series MVP Sam Gagner's vision and playmaking abilities are the best of this age group. Captain Milan Lucic provided the muscle and gave his teammates space and time to make plays.

Stefan Legein of the Niagara IceDogs was an effective irritant and scorer for Canada in the first half of the series in Russia.

The series was an important step in the development of 16-year-old Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares. He had flashes of brilliance in this series, but also struggled at times to adjust to Sutter's conservative, defence-first philosophy.

Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen and Guelph's Drew Doughty ate up a lot of minutes on the blue-line and Canada's defencemen as a group kept Russia away from their goalies even strength and a man down.

"I think the biggest thing is playing a different role than I'm used to," Hickey said. "Even at other Hockey Canada events, I've been able to play more like I play on my club team, more of an offensive style. But I found it neat to come here and be told that keeping pucks out of my own end was my main objective and that's pretty much my only objective.

"We've all bore down and sacrificed the offensive side of our game. As long as we're winning, I don't think the guys mind too much."

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