The Russians are coming, and Kootenay Ice defenceman Rinat Valiev will join his countrymen for the Subway Super Series at the end of November.
He will don the red, white and blue colours of his homeland against a squad of WHL stars that include teammates on the Ice roster—Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau.
“I’m so happy to be on Team Russia against WHL,” said Valiev. “Can’t wait to play. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to play against Sam and Desch.”
Also on the other bench with Reinhart and Descheneau will be the Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill, who is assisting bench boss Brent Sutter for the WHL portion of the Super Series.
Valiev will join fellow Russian WHLers such as Nikita Scherbak, the leading rookie scorer in the league with the Saskatoon Blades, and Alexander Delanov with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Seven other Russians are playing in either the OHL or QMJHL, and four players are property of NHL teams.
Valiev has appeared in 13 games so far with Kootenay after coming over from Kazan, where he was cooling his heels while waiting for his Canadian visa.
He has adjusted to the WHL lifestyle, but isn’t completely satisfied about how he is playing.
“Now I feel good in my game, but I need to be better, at all times and be ready to play,” Valiev said.
Prior to the WHL season, he got in some experience at the professional level with an appearance at training camp with the Dallas Stars.
He spent last year in the USHL playing with the Indiana Ice, where he tallied six goals and seven assists in 36 games.
However, making the jump into the WHL has been a different experience, as it is a much more physical game, he said.
“More hits in this league, but I like to play offensive, shoot the puck,” Valiev said. “In WHL, so many hits.”
Murray representing Team West
Troy Murray is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Ryan, and suiting up for Team West in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Cape Breton over the Christmas break.
Murray, the only representative from the Ice this year at the tournament, will join six other defencemen, 13 forwards and two goaltenders all coached by Dan Lambert, an assistant coach with the Kelowna Rockets.
The 16-year-old blueliner attended a summer camp and seemed to make a good impression. Speaking of impressions, he’s obviously made one with the Kootenay coaching staff, as he has appeared in every single game so far in the season.
“It’s going to be an exciting tournament,” said Murray. “They’re [Team West] usually the underdogs, so I’m looking to change that and and come out with a medal.”
His elder sibling, Ryan Murray, is a former WHL standout with the Everett Silvertips who played in the same tournament in 2009 and is now playing professionally with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL.
The Everett Silvertips come to town on Tuesday night, which have a few connections to the current Kootenay squad.
As mentioned above, Murray will get to face his older brother’s former team, while Ryan Chynoweth and Zach McPhee also wore the green and gold colours during their WHL careers at one point.
Also, Cranbrook native and Edmonton Oilers draft pick Ben Betker patrols the blue line for Everett. Betker was taken in the sixth round of the NHL draft back in June.
What’s old is new again for the ‘Tips, as former bench boss Kevin Constantine has returned for a second tenure with the club, leading them to a 15-4-4-0 record so far—tied for third overall in the WHL.
Being that Everett is a U.S. Division team, this will be the only appearance from the club over the next two years, as U.S. Division and B.C. Division teams alternate travel with Kootenay year-by-year.
Tuesday’s affair will be the first of a four-game road trip through the Central Division for the U.S. team.
The primary offensive threat is Joshua Winquist, who has 17 goals and 40 points in 23 games played. Manraj Hayer, Matt Pufahl and import Ivan Nikolishin are also putting up some steady points for the club.
Goaltender Austin Lotz has joined Ice netminder Mackenzie Skapski during Hockey Canada’s program of excellence summer development camps, and will be a tough wall to crack.