While the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League continue their regular season schedule, two of their players have traded their barber pole jerseys for the red, black, and white of Team Canada. Both Luca Pinelli and Chris Barlas have been given the call to join one of the three Canadian U17 teams for the Capital City Challenge that also features the Canadian National Women’s Team. Through the tournament, we have had the chance to see what these two players are capable of against their own age group, and while they haven’t been lighting things up in terms of sheer numbers, they have been good for their respective teams and have their coaches very happy with their games.
High Hockey IQ Helping Luca Pinelli
Playing for Team Canada Red, Pinelli has had a solid preliminary round of the Capital City Challenge that included a goal and an assist in the team’s opening game against Team Black. Through his three games, he has shown some flashes of his high skill that has been on full display in Ottawa all while adapting to a new team and a new role.
“It’s always an honour,” said Pinelli. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was young, so to put on the leaf, the same as my brother, I always follow his footsteps, it’s been really cool. [My brother] has given me so much advice, especially for Team Canada. Anything they give you, just work, battle, and compete. There’s a lot of good players around you, and you (have got to) just go out there and play your game and be yourself.”
The competition at this tournament has been stiff and playing time hasn’t been handed out, but Pinelli has been holding his own. The goal and the assist were obviously fantastic, but there’s more to his game than just putting the puck in the net. Anyone who has had the chance to watch Pinelli in his games with the 67’s this season will know that he is always up for a challenge, no matter how big of an underdog he might be.
“There are really skilled guys here, all my age,” said Pinelli. “They are great skill, they compete, it’s pretty fast out there. It’s been pretty good so far.”
His play in the Capital City Challenge has his head coach Kris Mallette on notice as well. Despite some of the struggles at certain moments while he continues to try to find consistency with the new group, he has shown what he is capable of and why the 67’s decided to use a second-round pick on him in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection.
“I think Luca possesses some really good hockey IQ,” said Mallette. “I’ve got him playing on his off side, so it’s a bit of an ask for a young player coming into such a high-stakes tournament. I thought he’s handled himself well and has created some pretty good scoring opportunities. Trying to find a role right now for a lot of guys on our group, so there’s a lot of interchanging throughout those first three games, but I think he’s handled himself very well. I like his personality as well.”
Chris Barlas Doing the Little Things
Like Pinelli, Barlas has been very good at the Capital City Challenge. While there might be no points to report on for him, Barlas has been one of the more impressive players on the Team White roster, especially in the game against Team Red, where he was allowed to fully utilize the physical side of his game.
“It feels amazing,” said Barlas. “Just watching in my childhood all the guys that grew up and played for Team Canada. It’s a really special opportunity for me and I’ve been enjoying it so far. It’s a really nice feeling.”
“I got to meet a lot of different guys from different leagues,” he said. “Tyler [Peddle] here (who was sitting next to Barlas in his post-game media availability) has made a really good friend. All the guys on the team are really nice, so it’s been a great opportunity to meet new guys.”
Barlas has played some very important minutes with the 67’s this season and has continued to get better and better as the year has gone along. He hasn’t registered a point in any game this season in either the OHL or the tournament, but he continues to create offence, and it’s just a matter of time before that starts to happen for him.
“The level of skill is just really high out there,” said Barlas. “All of the guys are really good and play with a high pace. There’s a lot of competitors out there, and I love how everyone competes so hard. It’s been really fast, really high-paced games.”
His performance at this tournament has earned him a glowing review from Rob Wilson, head coach of Team White. Wilson has seen plenty of Barlas this season, both in the Capital City Challenge and in his time coaching the Peterborough Petes, who have already played the 67’s three times this season, twice while Barlas was playing.
“First of all, I don’t like [Barlas] when he plays against us in Peterborough,” said Wilson. “I told him that, but that’s why I like him. He plays with an edge, he battles on draws. He does things that a lot of guys don’t want to do. I think he’s going to be a very, very good player in the OHL. I really like him so far from what we have seen, and we’ve played him a lot and were going to play him a lot over the rest of the season.”
“His compete is just so high and I really like that about him,” he continued.
Barlas And Pinelli Square Off Against Each Other
On the second to last day of the Capital City Challenge preliminary round, Team Red and Team White met each other on the ice, pitting two teammates against one another for the first time. Neither Barlas nor Pinelli managed to register a point, but both players had their chances to score, and both made their presence felt in the game.
“It was fun,” said Barlas. “A little bit of chirping going on, but it was really fun. He’s a nice guy and he’s really hard working on the ice so it’s really nice to play against him and have him compete against me.”
“It was great,” said Pinelli. “He’s a very competitive guy, he likes to battle so it was great playing up against my teammate. We weren’t friends on the ice, but off the ice were great buddies. He’s a great guy.”
Team Red got the better of Team White, beating them by a final score of 4-2, but the game could have easily been tied in the dying seconds after a furious comeback effort by Team White. Luke Misa of the Mississauga Steelheads fanned on a slot shot that would have almost certainly ended in a goal, and Easton Cowan put it into the empty net. A tough loss for White, a big win for Red, and two friends squaring off against one another. It was a phenomenal hockey game too, it was everything you could have asked for.
Not Done Yet
Both players have more to come in this tournament still. Team White and Barlas go into a huge game against Team Black tonight night as they continue to fight for seeding. Team Red and Pinelli now have a day off today before coming back for the semi-finals on Tuesday. For both players, medals are on the line and you know they will want to have the bragging rights over each other when they get back to playing on the same team next weekend with the 67’s. For now, they are competitors.
Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking and writing other sports (primarily Canadian football) on my website 13thmansports.ca!