Capital City Challenge Preliminary Wrap Up: Women’s Team & Team Red

After their games on Sunday, both Team Canada Red and the Canadian National Women’s Team have seen their preliminary rounds at the Capital City Challenge wrap up with some mixed results. Both will be continuing their games into the semi-finals this week, thanks to there only being four teams in the competition, but there have been some highs and some lows in both camps. Things have been moving at a break-neck pace, and it’s flown by, but as the teams look forward to what’s next, let’s take a second to look back at what both teams have accomplished in Ottawa this weekend.

Canadian National Women’s Team

The Canadian National Women’s Team came into this tournament with relatively low expectations in terms of winning games, but there was an anticipation that the level of competition would be exceptionally high, something they need as they continue to prepare for the Olympics in Beijing, China this winter.

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“We’ve been able to play some international games (part of the Rivalry Series) the last couple of weeks, and I think the boys are going to give us a different look,” said Jamie Lee Rattray. “When we played the Junior ‘A’ teams out in Alberta, we learned a lot about ourselves. This will be no different.”

Team White Celebrates
Team White Celebrates (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

When the preliminary round of the Capital City Challenge kicked off on Friday afternoon, the Canadian National Women’s Team squared off against Team Canada White. Early in the game, it’s fair to say that the women controlled the pace as the boys tried to feel things out and get used to the different set of rules. Despite conceding an early goal, they managed to get back into the game when Natalie Spooner tied things up at one with a power-play goal just six minutes later.

It was about this time when the boys started to figure some things out and started taking advantage of their size and scored a couple of goals in the back half of the first period. The second period was all Team White, and the women were outshot 22-8 as the boys took a 5-1 lead.

The third period was one of the more impressive periods for the women in the tournament, and they showed a great level of compete. They scored a couple of goals courtesy of Marie-Philip Poulin, who was fantastic and worth the price of admission. They ultimately lost the game by a score of 7-3 and were outshot heavily 48-19, but there were things to like about their game, including Kirsten Campbell, who was solid all day long.

Related: Canadian National Women’s Team Shows Promise at Capital City Challenge

The women’s second game was their toughest game all weekend long. They decided that Spooner and Poulin wouldn’t be dressing, and while the effort level was still there, you could tell that two of their best veteran forwards were missing. They couldn’t hang with Team Red and their size, speed, and skill, especially not with who was sitting this game out. It was a pretty forgettable game for the women, one that they will want to put behind them as soon as possible.

They did just that heading into their final preliminary round game of the tournament. They were taking on Team Black, the early favourite to take gold in the Capital City Challenge, and played easily their best game of the weekend. Everything that they were able to accomplish stemmed from what Ann-Renee Desbiens was able to accomplish. She turned aside 52 of 56 shots and turned in one of the best goaltending performances I have ever seen. She was an absolute rock. Her rebound control was top notch, her awareness was great, and her compete level was something to be admired. She might not admit it, but this was an all-timer, something that goaltending coaches around the world will show to their students as an example of what to do.

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

“Every game we play is very different, but any time you have the opportunity to play against a high-level competition, you just try your best and try to give your team an opportunity to win. I think that is what I did today. I would not necessarily say it was the best performance of my career, but I had a lot of fun out there and it was a big challenge,” said Desbiens.

The shot clock heavily favoured Team Black once again, but it doesn’t tell the full game story. The women ended up losing the game 4-1, but they had their chances to score goals. One of their biggest pitfalls in the game was a hesitancy to shoot the puck, favouring the fancy or cute play more often than not. One chance that stands out from the rest is a rush where Poulin could have shot the puck with ample time and space but instead elected to pass the puck into a couple of bodies, resulting in a turnover. Taking those chances to shoot the puck and putting things on the net is something that the women should be focusing on, especially in games where they are playing against the boys.

“When we started this event, there was so much of an unknown,” Troy Ryan said. “The National Women’s Team hasn’t really matched up against the U17 group of this calibre, so our main goal was just to try to learn as much as we could throughout the event. I do think that if you look at the three games that we have played, we have been able to get better and close the gap quite consistently. I think for us we made some improvements and specifically on our stick play. We just want to take those few things that we learned and hopefully, it carries over and we anticipate possibly playing [Team Black] again.

Undoubtedly, this was the best game of the tournament and should give them quite a bit of confidence heading into the semi-finals on Tuesday. They stayed in the game and got the goaltending they needed to pull off a massive upset, but they just couldn’t find the goals. The expectation isn’t to win these games, but knowing that they could have won one should give them a little extra juice going forward.

Team Canada Red

For Team Canada Red, there have been all of the highs and lows of a traditional season in just one weekend. They kicked things off with an incredibly tough game against Team Black, where they were trounced by a final score of 7-2. Going up against Calum Ritchie (Oshawa Generals) and Zach Benson (Winnipeg ICE) gave them an incredibly tough task, one that they just weren’t up to ask for on Friday night.

That said, the 7-2 scoreline was not a fair reflection of how Team Red played in their opening game. The shot clock showed an advantage for Team Black, but it was only by two shots, ending at 32-30. Where the real advantage was found was in the special teams department. Team Red spent far too much time in the penalty box, giving Team Black five opportunities on the power play. They found the back of the net on two of these chances, a stark difference from what Team Red was able to accomplish. On their three power-play chances, Team Red was unable to register a goal, putting them behind the eight-ball in the game.

Lukas Dragicevic Team Canada
Lukas Dragicevic, Team Canada (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

Team Red would have the chance to bounce right back against the Canadian National Women’s Team the very next day in the only Capital City Challenge game on Saturday. They would score early and often against the women, leaving them little chance to dictate the game. They got great performances from Matthew Wood (Victoria Grizzlies), Bradley Nadeau (Penticton Vees), and Lukas Dragicevic (Tri-City Americans), who all played some of their best games of the tournament.

It wasn’t just them, however. The majority of the team was really good, including Owen Outwater (North Bay Battalion), who was playing in front of his hometown crowd. The mix of his size and skill made him a really tough opponent for the women, allowing him to make some really impressive plays and create numerous offensive chances despite not registering a point.

Related: Capital City Challenge Day 3: Wood, Desbiens Dominate Competition

With the big game against the women under their belt, they moved onto their final game of the preliminary round on Sunday afternoon against Team White, and it ended up being the best game of the tournament so far. The first period of the game was played to a draw, the first time a period had finished without a goal scored all tournament long. The teams were evidently close, but it was only a matter of time before someone would be able to break the deadlock.

Team Red Celebrates
Team Red Celebrates (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

In the second period, Wood and Brayden Yager (Moose Jaw Warriors) teamed up a couple of times to score the only two goals of the period. Both teams had their chances to score, and it easily could have been 2-0 the other way, but Team Red was able to capitalize and took a lead into the dressing room. They kicked the third period off with another quick goal from Wood to take a 3-0 lead, but the game was still far from over.

Just over three minutes later, Team White found a response. Tyler Peddle (Drummondville Voltigeurs) brought them back to within two goals, and it would be followed five minutes later with another marker from Andrew Cristall (Kelowna Rockets) to cut the Team Red lead to just one goal. In the final seconds of the game, Team White had the pressure turned up and came very close to tying the game, but Luke Misa (Mississauga Steelheads) fanned on a one-timer, allowing Easton Cowan (Komoka Kings) to come down the ice and fire it into the empty net.

This team is led offensively by Yager and Wood, who have both been exceptional this tournament. The two combine for 10 points through three games and lead the tournament in goals through day three. Defensively, Etienne Morin (Moncton Wildcats) and Dragicevic have been rock solid this whole time defensively, and offensively, Morin leads the tournament in assists with four through day three. Despite the big loss to Team Black, there should be hope in the Team Red locker room that they can come out of this with a gold medal.

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

“Coming into it we had two quick skates, and the message for our group was to try to get better each and every game,” said Kris Mallette, head coach of Team Red. “It’s so cliche, but really that first period of our first game against Black, I think that last six minutes we started to build a little bit of momentum and slowly as the game progressed we’ve done just exactly what we’ve asked.”

“There’s definitely going to be some learning curve that we have to go through,” he continued. “What do we need to clean up in such a short amount of time? I mean, the list could be as long as you want it to be, but my philosophy throughout this whole process is to allow these guys to shine. Allow them to take their natural talents and see where it goes.”

Still Much to Prove

For both of these teams, the preliminary round might be over, but they still have two more chances to show what they can do against some of the best Canadian hockey players in the world. This afternoon will mark the start of the semi-finals, with the bronze and gold medal games on Wednesday. For the fans who are considering checking these games out, it’s definitely worth it. Not only do you get to see some future NHL stars, but it also provides the chance to watch some of the best female hockey players on the planet. The tournament has been highly entertaining so far, and that should only improve as the stakes are raised.

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