The two remaining teams waiting to wrap up their preliminary rounds at the Capital City Challenge have now done so after Team Black and Team White went head to head on Monday night. We’ve already wrapped up the Team Red and Canadian National Women’s Team’s preliminary rounds, so it’s time to take a look at what the other two teams have been up to ahead of the semi-finals on Tuesday.
In the preview of the Capital City Challenge I wrote just a couple of days ago, I had mentioned that Team Black should be the early favorite to take home the gold medal when things wrap up on Wednesday night. While they haven’t accomplished that just yet, they look to be well on the path to getting there after a fantastic preliminary round has them sitting atop of the table and gearing up for a matchup with the Canadian National Women’s Team on Tuesday. How did they get here? Let’s dive into that.
They kicked off their week inside the Arena at TD Place in Ottawa with a massive win over Team Red, blowing them out of the water with a 7-2 scoreline. This game wasn’t the massive blowout it appeared to be by looking at the score, however. Things were tight, and the two teams battled hard, but in the end, it was the special teams of Team Black that carried them to a win in their first game.
Their special teams are a trend that would continue throughout the entire tournament. In their second game, a meeting with the National Women’s Team gave them perhaps just a little bit of a scare. Ann-Renee Desbiens was simply superb on the night, stopping 52 of the 56 shots Team Black directed her direction. It was the lowest-scoring game against the women of all the games played against them at the Capital City Challenge, and that comes as a bit of a shock considering the massive numbers Team Black dropped in their two other games.
Had the women converted on a couple of the quality chances, it could have easily ended with Team Black on the wrong side of the score and, at the very least, could have given them a little bit of a scare in a game they were all but guaranteed to win. Credit needs to be given to the women for that game, however, especially Desbines who had a performance for the ages.
It seemed like Team Black used their lack of goal-scoring against the women as some kind of motivation when they took on Team White just 24 hours later. Calum Ritchie (Oshawa Generals) and Zach Benson (Winnipeg ICE) combined to score 11 points on the night, including a trio of goals from each of them as they put up 10 goals on just 33 shots against Nathaniel Day (Flint Firebirds).
Team Black’s first line continues to be the biggest story for them. The connection between Ritchie, Benson, and Ty Halaburda (Vancouver Giants) has been unmatched and has been the key to victory for them. It’s almost unfair to pair them together, but they have become an inseparable trio and have opposing teams pulling their hair out trying to find ways to slow them down since stopping them doesn’t seem like an option.
“I like the way we start games,” said Stéphane Julien, head coach of Team Canada Black. “Again [in the game against Team White], we were on the puck, we had some good puck pressure, we generated some offence. Our transition is very quick. We moved the puck, our defense did a really good job on everything in the neutral zone. We have some speed, and we have taken advantage of the power play so far in this tournament, and I like the commitment of the team.”
“From day one, I’ve focused a lot of the chemistry of our team and guys are buying in. Honestly, our captain [Cameron] Allen (Guelph Storm) has done a really good job of bringing our group together, and we deserve what we got right now. We’re in first place and they work hard. I’m very happy for them.”
Things were undoubtedly pretty fun in the Team Black locker room. Steps down the hall, things likely weren’t so peachy in the Team White locker room after finishing the preliminary round with a record of 1-2 and heading into a very tough rematch with Team Red on Tuesday. They won’t have an easy path to gold at the Capital City Challenge, but they still have a chance to get there.
They kicked off their tournament with a game against the National Women’s Team, a game they ended up winning quite handily despite things staying close in the early portions of the game. It took them some time to get a grasp of what they were and what they weren’t allowed to do when it came down to physicality, but when they found that line, there were able to take full advantage and take home a 7-3 win.
Their next game put them up against Team Red, which ended up being the best game of the tournament from a competition and entertainment perspective. Both teams shared their chances to win the game, but Team White got into trouble with constant and costly trips to the penalty box. Despite their poor discipline, they got themselves back into the game and could have tied it up in the dying seconds, but Team Red ended up scoring into the empty net to win 4-2 in thrilling fashion.
They would play their final preliminary round game on Monday night against Team Black. We’ve already gone over the offensive explosion from the first line, but it was once again penalties that ruined any chance Team White had to win. They kept the game close and scored their fair share of goals, and despite a breakout game from Matthew Soto (Kingston Frontenacs), they couldn’t keep up with the pace Team Black was setting, sending them to third in the table and for a matchup with Team Red in the semi-finals.
“We took eight minors [in the earlier game against Team Red] and we just talked about it, again we took too many penalties,” said Rob Wilson, head coach of Team White. “I don’t know if it’s a coaching thing, or maybe we’re trying to fire them up too much, but we’re taking a lot of minors, and it’s really hurting us.”
“If we do that [in the semi-finals], we’ll, unfortunately, come out and lose again, but if we go play five-on-five, I thought we played very well against Red, even [against Team Black] I thought five-on-five we were pretty good. We got ourselves behind the eight ball, and we can’t do that when we play [the semi-finals].”
“It’s a little bit of everything. I do think they are fired up, but you have to keep your discipline, and you have to understand that when we have a five-on-four you can’t make it a five-on-three. That’s just a rule that we have to live by, and if we want to have success in this tournament, we have to stay out of the box.”
Things Get Real Now
With the preliminary round over, teams are looking forward to the medal rounds, the rounds where things become intense as every single goal could be the difference between playing for a gold medal or playing for a bronze medal. It could even be the difference between winning a medal and not getting one at all. The stakes are being raised, and it should make for some super entertaining games on Tuesday and Wednesday as a cap is put on what has been a great week of hockey in the nation’s capital.
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!