Though many view the CHL Subway Super Series as a bit of a throwback to the legendary days of lore when the Soviet Union's Red Army and Team Canada battled for international hockey supremacy, it meant a lot more than just nostalgia for Kootenay Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau and defenceman Rinat Valiev.
"It's a lot of fun playing with the best players from your league," Descheneau said prior to Kootenay Ice practice Thursday afternoon. "You really get to see what other players do and learn from them.
"It's a good experience."
With the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship on the horizon, the CHL Subway Super Series provides one last gasp for major junior hockey players to get their name into the conversation, if it isn't already there.
Descheneau, a 19-year-old fifth-round selection (124th overall, 2014) of the St. Louis Blues, was left off the Team Canada development camp roster this past summer. After a 98-point campaign in 2013-14, the 5-foot-9 spitfire has put up eight goals and 16 points through 17 games this season in hopes of landing his name on the radar of Team Canada brass.
"I played more physical and made sure I was better in my [defensive] zone," Descheneau said. "I think I did the best I could and hopefully I get an invite to camp in December."
The Edmonton native suited up in both games for Team WHL this past Monday and Tuesday. In a 3-2 shootout loss to the Russians in Saskatoon, the shifty Descheneau was looked to in the shootout by head coach Dave Lowry, ahead of the likes of 2014 first-round picks Conner Bleackley and Jake Virtanen.
"They gave me an opportunity and they upped my ice throughout both games," Descheneau said. "I started playing more in the second game, played a little power-play time and I was on the ice with a minute left trying to score to tie the game up."
With 11 eligible returners from Team Canada's entry at the 2014 World Junior Championship, including Kootenay Ice teammate Sam Reinhart, getting an opportunity to don the Maple Leaf remains a difficult one for Descheneau, but it's alive nonetheless.
On the other side of the ice, 6-foot-2 defenceman Rinat Valiev hopes he did enough to convince Team Russia general manager Alexei Kochetkov that he is worthy of joining the Russians in search of international glory this December.
"It's last chance to show my game before the world juniors," Valiev said Thursday afternoon prior to Kootenay Ice practice. "Coach will decide [if] he will invite me to the camp or not.
"I think I played okay, but I know I can be better."
Valiev, a 2014 third-round pick (68th overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs, participated in Team Russia's summer development camp, so he has a bit more of a leg up on the situation than Descheneau.
That being said, the Russians invited 11 defencemen to the Super Series, including Brandon Wheat Kings stud Ivan Provorov, who is eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. With that many blue-liners in the mix, nothing is a given for the 19-year-old Valiev, who is focused on getting up to speed in hopes his play with the Ice over the coming weeks will help solidify his position.
"I have to work hard, play every game hard, show myself," Valiev added.
After missing the first 12 games of the year due to a lower-body injury, the native of Nizhnekamsk has impressed since his return to the Kootenay Ice lineup. With two goals and eight points in seven games, Valiev has helped steady both the transition game and power play for the Kootenay Ice.
"It was a little bit tough for me," Valiev said of the pace at the Super Series. "The speed was really high. I just started playing [after recovering from injury] so it was a little bit tough to get going, but I'm happy to win two games."
Valiev suited up for Team Russia in both games against Team WHL, registering zero points and a minus-1 rating.
Team Canada's selection camp roster for the 2015 edition of the annual junior championship is expected to be announced in early December.
Toronto and Montreal play host to the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
A Canadian holiday tradition, the tournament fires up Dec. 26, when Team Russia opens the tournament against Denmark while Team Canada faces off against Slovakia.