Capital City Challenge Player Awards

During the Capital City Challenge, there was some fantastic hockey being played and some of those players deserved to be recognized. While there are no official awards coming from this tournament, we have taken the liberty of making our own. We have picked one player from each team as the best goaltender, the best defence, best forward, and most improved player from the start of the tournament to the end of it. We have picked one player from the four nominees to take home each award tournament-wide, so let’s get right into it.

Best Goaltender

Nominees – Ann-Renee Desbiens (Canadian National Women’s Team), Scott Ratzlaff (Team White, Seattle), Jackson Unger (Team Red, Edge School), Mason Vaccari (Team Black, Cobourg)

There were some simply stunning goaltending performances at the Capital City Challenge, but there were also a handful of games that ended with both goaltenders getting shelled and scored on almost at will. While everyone who was nominated for this award played really well, there was only one player who was the defacto difference-maker for their team.

Ann-Renee Desbiens only played twice for the Canadian National Women’s Team in their five games, but in the two games that she did play, her team had a chance to win. In her two games, she allowed eight goals, and while out of context that might not sound all that great, but when you consider that she faced 98 shots in those two games, you suddenly have a new appreciation for that stat. Even more impressive, however, is who those games came against. In both games, she faced Team Black who had one of the more potent offensive attacks in the tournament, and she was forced to make some 10-bell saves in the process.

Ann-Renee Desbiens Team Canada
Ann-Renee Desbiens, Team Canada (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

Goaltending coaches always preach a couple of things. The most important of anything else is positioning. If you’re in the right sport, it becomes much easier to make a save. Next would be rebound control. If you make the first save and hold onto it or put it into the corner, you have a chance to reset and get back into the right position again. Finally, if the level of competing is low, you won’t be making too many second-chance saves when they do happen. Desbiens got an A+ in every single one of those aspects and she was the clear and obvious choice for the tournament’s best goaltender.

Best Defender

Nominees – Renata Fast (Canadian National Women’s Team), Dylan MacKinnon (Team White, Halifax), Etienne Morin (Team Red, Moncton), Cameron Allen (Team Black, Guelph)

Deciding who the best defender at the Capital City Challenge was wasn’t easy. There’s a solid argument to be made for all of our nominees for this one. Renata Fast was really good for the women, Dylan MacKinnon anchored the Team White blue line, Cameron Allen was fantastic at both ends of the ice, but in the end, Etienne Morin displayed the best combination of offence and defence, earning himself the right to be called the tournament’s best defender.

Etienne Morin Team Canada
Etienne Morin, Team Canada (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

Morin contributed to Team Red both on the offensive and defensive ends of the rink. While being the stalwart Team Red needed defensively, he contributed five points in five games with all of his points being assists. As a defenceman, however, this is beyond impressive. This is just a continuation of what he has done in Moncton with the Wildcats this season, however. He has scored five goals and added another eight assists in just 20 games.

Morin is a player that fans should be paying attention to, not only for the draft in 2023, but also as a future contributor at the World Juniors representing Canada. At a young age, he is already displaying the ability to be a well-rounded defenceman and looks to have the makings of an elite player at the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League level and potentially beyond. Wildcats fans have a lot to be looking forward to with him.

Best Forward

Nominees – Marie-Philip Poulin (Canadian National Women’s Team), Ethan Gautier (Team White, Sherbrooke), Brayden Yager (Team Red, Moose Jaw), Zach Benson (Team Black, Winnipeg)

The hardest part of the best forward category was deciding between Zach Benson and Calum Ritchie for Team Black’s nominee. It was obvious that one of those two players was going to win best forward at the tournament with how dominant they both were, but in the end, there’s a slight edge on the side of Benson that we just couldn’t overlook.

Zach Benson Team Canada
Zach Benson, Team Canada (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

The projected top-five pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft was simply on fire at the Capital City Challenge, scoring 12 points in just five games. This included seven goals and three power-play goals. It wasn’t just his play with the puck that was impressive, however. Away from the puck, Benson was working hard to find ways to get the puck and never once looked disinterested in a play where he didn’t have the puck like some goal scorers do, especially at the junior level.

Related: Team Canada Black Wins Gold at Capital City Challenge

Benson is considered right now to be the consolation prize for Connor Bedard for whoever doesn’t win the draft lottery in 2023, but Benson is anything but a consolation. He is a supremely talented offensive player who has scored 23 points in 16 games in his rookie season with the Winnipeg ICE of the Western Hockey League. His future is bright, and he should absolutely be on the radar of every hockey fan already.

Most Improved Player

Nominees – Victoria Bach (Canadian National Women’s Team), Kalan Lind (Team White, Red Deer), Carson Rehkopf (Team Red, Kitchener), Oliver Bonk (Team Black, St. Thomas)

The most improved player award was one with plenty of names in the conversation before a winner was decided. Outside of those who were nominated, there were numerous other names in the conversation that could have been considered, including Owen Outwater (North Bay Battalion), but in the end, no one showed more improvement from the start of the tournament to the end it than Oliver Bonk of the St. Thomas Stars (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League). Bonk, son of former NHLer Radek Bonk, started the tournament playing few minutes on the Team Black blue line but worked his way into a critical role on the team.

Oliver Bonk Team Black
Oliver Bonk, Team Black (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

“Bonk had a slow start to the tournament, but every game he stepped up and he was one of our best defencemen before the game started,” said Stéphane Julien, Team Black’s head coach.

While it was his steady presence defensively that earned him this award, he would also quietly be a point-per-game player through five games, scoring one goal and four more assists. He is property of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, and if he continues to develop as he has, he should be there in no time.

Scouting the Future

Although it shouldn’t be used to change what you thought about a player beforehand, the Capital City Challenge was a great chance for scouts to take a look at some of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft class in one place earlier than normal. There were some players who came out and impressed, and there were some that struggled with things, but that shouldn’t move the needle too far in either direction. If you did happen to catch the action, you certainly got your money’s worth and you saw some stars in the making before anyone really knows about them.

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