There will be thousands of fans cheering on the Canadian Hockey League's best players as they play Russia in the annual Super Series over the next two weeks. But it's Joel Bouchard and the rest of Hockey Canada's staff the players will be trying to impress ahead of the world junior hockey championship.
"Me and (head coach) Dominique Ducharme will be meeting at every game," said Bouchard, the leader of Canada's world junior team front office, emphasizing that the Super Series is crucial for his ongoing evaluation of players. "Our coaching staff will be involved with every game, our scouting staff will be there, talking to the players. We'll give them guidelines, we'll evaluate them on those guidelines, we'll surround them with the mindset we'd like them to have. It's a major test for those guys."
The Super Series begins on Monday in Moose Jaw, Sask., as all-stars from the Western Hockey League will take on the Russians. Swift Current, Sask., hosts the second stop of the six-game series on Tuesday before the event heads east for two games with the Ontario Hockey League and another two with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Hockey Canada already evaluated much of its talent this past August in Plymouth, Mich., at the World Junior Summer Showcase. That week-long camp included 12 international competitions between Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States in preparation for the 2018 world junior hockey championships in late December and early January in Buffalo, N.Y.
Canada had 42 players at the Summer Showcase but putting three teams on the ice for the Super Series allows Bouchard and his advisers to look at more than 70 players. For players on the bubble of Canada's world junior team, it's a chance to shine.
"Can he handle the pace, the pressure? Can he play against those guys?" said Bouchard, when asked what he's looking for from players hoping to get an invite to Canada's selection camp in St. Catharines, Ont., in mid-December. "Can he separate himself from the group that he's with and can he even separate himself from the opponent?
"Can he show you that he's comfortable on the ice so you think 'oh this guy can handle it,' because it's not going to get any easier from there."
The Super Series is also a useful tool for Bouchard because the players are facing a motivated and skilled team in the Russians in an environment that will come close to simulating the game conditions of the world juniors. It might also give Hockey Canada's brain trust a look at potential defensive pairings or forward lines.
"It's the best showcase that our players across the country could have," said Bouchard. "We're going to play against a European-style, big team with good Russian players. The lights will never look brighter, the spotlight will be on our players. It's great for our evaluation.
"It's the best tool we could have, especially at this time of the season. We can see the progression, see where our players are, give the opportunity to some of the guys we didn't see this summer who are really stepping it up."
After the games in Moose Jaw and Swift Current, the Russians will play the OHL in Owen Sound, Ont., on Thursday and in Sudbury, Ont., on Nov. 13. The QMJHL then hosts the Russian team on Nov. 14 in Charlottetown and on Nov. 16 in Moncton, N.B.
Hockey Canada's selection camp in St. Catharines runs from Dec. 12 to 15. Canada's junior national team will face the Czech Republic on Dec. 20 in London, Ont., and Switzerland on Dec. 22 in Hamilton before heading to Buffalo for the world championships.
Follow @jchidleyhill on Twitter