Previewing the Capital City Challenge

On Friday night, the Capital City Challenge will kick off from the Arena at TD Place, pitting three teams of 2005-born men’s players and the Canadian Women’s National Team against one another. Taking place from Nov. 26, 2021, and wrapping up on Dec. 1, 2021, with the bronze and gold medal games, the tournament serves as a one-off replacement World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It will also serve as a chance for Canada’s National Women’s Team to compete as part of its centralization schedule.

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Many hockey fans will come into this tournament almost completely blind, knowing very few players. There are some exceptionally talented players that will be in Ottawa this weekend, including some Olympic stars with the women’s team and some future NHLers on the under-17 teams. This is your one-stop shop for what to expect when the puck drops on Friday night.

Canadian Women’s National Team

The Canadian Women’s National Team continues to prepare for the Olympics in Beijing, China, this winter, but things have been somewhat dicey in recent times. They are coming off back-to-back losses to the United States in the Rivalry Series. They lost 3-2 in overtime in Kingston before losing 2-0 in Ottawa on Tuesday night. They saw some success against Finland, winning three consecutive games and out-scoring the Finns 17-3 in their series. They come into this tournament looking to find some kind of success to build upon before continuing their centralization schedule and the Rivalry Series in December.

Forwards

Rebecca Johnston, Laura Stacey, Jessie Eldridge, Sarah Fillier, Jill Saulnier, Melodie Daoust, Brianne Jenner, Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, Emily Clark, Emma Maltais, Marie-Philipe Poulin, Blayre Turnbull, Kristin O’Neill, Jamie Lee Rattray, Victoria Bach, Julia Gosling.

If there is one thing that can be considered a massive advantage for the women’s Olympic team in this tournament, it would be how long they have played together compared to a group of players meeting each other for the first time. This tournament brings some of the most notable names in women’s hockey to Ottawa that have seen success with the program for quite some time. Players like Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, and Marie-Philipe Poulin will be some of the more recognizable names to the casual fan, but that’s only just the tip of the Team Canada iceberg.

Natalie Spooner Team Canada
Natalie Spooner is a talented scorer and even better leader for Canada (Photo Credit: BDZ Sports (CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)), via Wikimedia Commons)

The women’s Olympic team should get a fair contribution from others including Rebecca Johnston who has played well this year, Melodie Daoust, and Brianne Jenner. Up and down the lineup, they have players who could be considered the best player had they been born in almost any other country. This is a team that, alongside the United States, has dominated the women’s hockey scene for decades, and while the gap continues to close as other nations continue to develop, they are serious threats to win gold in Beijing.

Related: Hockey Canada Announces ‘Capital City Challenge’ Tournament

The women’s team has even more than those already mentioned, too. They have Victoria Bach and Emily Clark who have been scoring at impressive rates with the national team this year and add yet another layer of danger and production. Jamie Lee Rattray, Laura Stacey, and Emma Maltais have this team nicely rounded and competitive. How exactly they will match up against the U17 teams will be interesting, and while they were crushed by junior “A” opponents earlier this year, there is a big difference between U20 and U17, so this could very well be a different story.

Defence

Jocelyne Larocque, Meaghan Mikkelson, Renata Fast, Ella Shelton, Ashton Bell, Erin Ambrose, Jaime Bourbonnais, Micah Zandee-Hart, Claire Thompson.

On the blue line, the Canadian Women’s National Team brings a mix of experience and youth that the U17 teams just can’t have. They have the luxury of having those stout defensive players like Jocelyne Larocque (33) and Meaghan Mikkelson (36) who have been doing this for a very long time. They should be able to take some of the younger players on the defence — and there are a fair few of them — under their wing and bring them along in the development process.

They also have a couple of players who are just about in the prime of their careers, including Renata Fast (27) and Erin Ambrose (27), who are going to help bridge the gap between experience and youth, bringing a little bit of both. Fast is a player that I will have my eyes on in this tournament. The Clarkson University alumna has had some good numbers with the Canadian National Team in her time, scoring five points in eight international games last year. I have high hopes for her in the Capital City Challenge.

Renata Fast Team Canada
Renata Fast, Team Canada (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Now we get down to what is likely the more unknown portion of the defence, also known as the young players. Ella Shelton (23) has only one year of experience with the national team, but had a massive point-per-game season at Clarkson University in 2019-20. Ashton Bell (21) is also here for her second tour of duty with the national team and is also currently playing with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Jaime Bourbonnais (23) has a little more experience playing international hockey with this team and is back for a third year; in 2019-20, she had a massive 41 points in 33 games with Cornell University playing defence.

There is still more youth too. Micah Zandee-Hart, the former captain for Cornell University is back for a third time. Finally, Claire Thompson is around for a second time after a solid career at Princeton University in the NCAA. All of these options show that the women’s team is still bringing in young and promising talent, and that the future is bright defensively for the Canadians.

Goaltenders

Ann-Renee Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer, Kristen Campbell.

In the past, Canada has gotten some unreal goaltending from Ann-Renne Desbiens. In her time playing internationally with Canada, she has a goals-against average (GAA) under 1.5 and a save percentage (SV%) well over .900. She has been really good, and she will have the chance to continue that in this tournament. Flashback to 2016-17, Desbiens had a GAA of 0.73 and a SV% of .963. This is simply mind-boggling, and on top of it, she wore the “A” for the University of Wisconsin.

Canada also brings the 27-year-old Emerance Maschmeyer to play alongside Desbiens. The last real chunk of games that can be drawn on is in 2018-19 when she played for the Montreal Canadiennes, posting a GAA of 1.45 and a SV% .935. Kristen Campbell will also be in goal in this tournament, getting her first chance to wear the maple leaf at this level. Like Desbiens, Campbell has also worn the “A” at the University of Wisconsin, so perhaps the Badgers are telling us something.

Team Canada White

Team Canada White will be coached by Rob Wilson, the head coach of the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Team White consists of 10 OHL players, six Western Hockey League (WHL) players, and seven players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). All of the teams are made up of really interesting prospects who are just starting to get their feet wet in the junior hockey circuit, but this team has a little bit of everything.

Forwards

Andrew Cristall, Luke McNamara, Mathieu Cataford, Carey Terrance, Chris Barlas, Luke Misa, Alexis Bourque, Ethan Gauthier, Kalan Lind, Ethan Miedema, Ryker Singer, Tyler Peddle, Matthew Soto.

Team Canada White is anchored largely by players out of the OHL as we will get to soon, but perhaps the most interesting talent on this team is Drummondville Voltigeurs forward, Tyler Peddle. In his first season in the QMJHL, Peddle has himself squarely in the running for the team lead in points and leads his team in goals. Yes, you read that right. A rookie is leading his team in goals. That doesn’t happen very often, especially not in junior hockey where you come in a boy and leave a man many times, but Peddle is doing just that. He has scored 10 goals in 20 games and has 13 points this season. He should be really fun to watch.

That brings us to the OHL players on the roster. There are a couple of players who could go on to do big things eventually, including Matthew Soto of the Kingston Frontenacs, Ethan Miedema of the Windsor Spitfires, and Luke Misa of the Mississauga Steelheads. They all bring a great amount of firepower to the offence, but there are a couple of players who might be overlooked heading into this tournament, including Chris Barlas of the Ottawa 67’s who brings some local flair to the home fans.

Chris Barlas Ottawa 67's
Chris Barlas, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

There are more OHL forwards still including Carrey Terrance of the Erie Otters and Luke McNamara of the Saginaw Spirit who could make a big impact on Team White if they are put into the right situations. Outside of the OHL players, however, there is a slew of players who fans should be excited to see. Kalan Lind of the Red Deer Rebels, Andrew Cristall of the Kelowna Rockets, Mathieu Cataford of the Halifax Mooseheads, and Ethan Gautier of the Sherbrooke Pheonix all come to town for what could end up being their only trip to the nation’s capital baring a release or Ottawa being awarded the Memorial Cup.

Related: WHL: Kamloops Blazers Off to Hot Start

Offensively, Team White brings a more familiar look to the Ottawa crowd, although that’s not really saying much. There are a couple of players here that have flown somewhat under the radar that should be able to produce a little bit more now that they are playing against their age group, so there could be an offensive explosion to come from this team. Like every other team, however, how well all these players gel together can make or break things. You will want to get your eyes on players like Peddle, Lind, and Cataford while you have the chance, though. It’s very unlikely that you will have the chance to watch them live without travelling again after this tournament is done.

Defence

Mazden Leslie, Dylan MacKinnon, Kaden Hammell, Luke Coughlin, Marc-Olivier Beaudry, Alexis Daviault, Tristan Bertucci.

The OHL roots seem to die a little bit with the defence. Only Alexis Daviault (Sarnia Sting) and Tristan Bertucci (Flint Firebirds) are in the OHL right now, meaning fans will once again be a little unfamiliar with the rest of the roster. There are examples of defensive crews scoring in this tournament, but Team White doesn’t seem to have that flash, or at least their defencemen haven’t been able to show that flash with their club teams.

Tristan Bertucci Flint Firebirds
Tristan Bertucci, Flint Firebirds (Photo by Natalie Shaver/OHL Images)

Team White brings a considerable amount of size to the table defensively. The shortest member of the defence is Rimouski Oceanic defenceman Luke Coughlan and the only other one to be shorter than 6-foot is Daviault. Dylan MacKinnon (Mooseheads), Bertucci, and Kaden Hammell (Kamloops Blazers) are both 6-foot-2, towering defencemen by the U17 standard. They are split by Mazden Leslie (Vancouver Giants) and Marc-Olivier Beaudry (Voltigeurs) who come in at 6-foot-1 and 6-foot, respectively.

None of these players have really proven to be offensive defencemen at the major junior level just yet and they look to be more like stalwarts on the blue line, but playing against their own age bracket could open things up for them and allow them a little bit more freedom to do things that they did in minor hockey. Time will tell, but expecting this defensive core to care about their own goal more than scoring on the other end of the ice seems like the logical choice right now.

Goaltenders

Scott Ratzlaff, Nathaniel Day.

In this tournament, there is really nothing in the way of goaltenders who have much major junior experience for the three U17 teams, but Team White might be the best off as both of their goaltenders play major junior hockey this season. Scott Ratzlaff is the more experienced of the two, having already played five games with the Seattle Thunderbirds to the tune of a 2.44 GAA and a .900 SV%. For a young goaltender, these are respectable numbers at the very least, even if he is playing on one of the best teams in the WHL right now.

His partner in crime will be Nathaniel Day of the Firebirds, meaning he will have some familiarity with Bertucci. Day has only seen the net in one game for Flint this season and it was for only 18 minutes after Luke Cavallin allowed four goals on 19 shots. He was only tested four times in that game and he really doesn’t carry too much experience with him, but this might be Day’s chance to get a real look and get some playing time. Team White should be alright in the crease with Ratzlaff and Day at the helm of things.

Team Canada Red

Behind the Team Canada Red bench will be Kris Mallette, head coach of the Rockets. This team might not feature players who are expected to be the best at this tournament (that title looks to belong to Team Black), but pound for pound, they look like they will be able to compete for the championship at the end. This team might be one of the deeper ones in the tournament with numerous players who are already on some NHL radars alongside some who are taking a little bit of a different path.

Forwards

Natan Ethier, Bradley Nadeau, Sam Oremba, Riley Heidt, Owen Outwater, Luca Pinelli, Nathan Baril, Justin Gendron, Carson Rehkopf, Easton Cowan, Brayden Yager, Matthew Wood, Harrison Lodewyk.

When looking at the numbers, it’s impossible to not notice what Brayden Yager has done with the Moose Jaw Warriors this season. Through 18 games, he is sitting at a point-per-game pace with 10 goals and eight assists and is in second place on his team in scoring, just three points behind veteran forward, Ryder Korczak. Yager has already matched his point total from last season and is continuing on a great pace in just his second season. He will likely be a big part of everything that Team Red accomplishes at the Capital City Challenge.

By the numbers again, you might notice Matthew Wood has played 12 games this season, scoring 14 goals and adding 12 more assists. He is taking a somewhat different route compared to many of the other players participating in this tournament and is currently playing in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with the Victoria Grizzlies. The BCHL is known for really good junior “A” hockey, but it isn’t quite on that major junior level. He is currently committed to the University of Connecticut, meaning he would void his eligibility should he join a Canadian Hockey League (CHL) team.

Related: Spitfires Weekly: Chaotic West, Injuries & 3-Game Week

Bradley Nadeau is much in the same boat, currently lighting things up in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees. He is committed to the University of Maine in the NCAA for 2023-24. The rest of the forward roster features players like Luca Pinelli of the 67’s (brother of Los Angeles Kings prospect Francesco Pinelli) and Owen Outwater of the North Bay Battalion, who have both been off to good starts with their respective teams this season despite minimal goal scoring.

Luca Pinelli, Ottawa 67's
Luca Pinelli, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti, The Hockey Writers)

As you go down the list, you get to some more talented young players. Carson Rehkopf of the Kitchener Rangers has had a modest level of success in his first OHL season, Riley Heidt of the Prince George Cougars is nearing the point-per-game pace that makes fans’ jaws drop, and they have some solid depth beyond that.

My attention will be turned towards Yager, Wood, and Nedeau for various reasons, but seeing players from the BCHL go up against CHL players is going to be interesting in a lot of ways. They are high-end talents waiting for their shot in the NCAA in 2023-24, but how they look today compared to major junior players of the same age range should be interesting if nothing else.

Defence

Olivier Savard, Lukas Dragicevic, Etienne Morin, Emile Perron, Beau Akey, Quinn Mantei, Quinton Burns.

Let’s start with the OHL members of this defensive group. Olivier Savard (Spirit), Beau Akey (Barrie Colts), and Quinton Burns (Frontenacs) have all been stout defensively for their respective teams this season. The point scoring hasn’t been there for them this season, but there’s more to playing defence than scoring points.

Beau Akey, Barrie Colts
Beau Akey, Barrie Colts (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

If defencemen who can score are more up your alley, Team Red has one of those guys, too. From the Moncton Wildcats, Etienne Morin has been scoring at a decent clip this season, scoring four goals and adding another eight assists through his first 13 games of the season. He is a smooth-skating defenceman who isn’t afraid to jump in on the rush. He has worked his way up to playing on the Wildcats’ first pair this season and he looks like a guy that could put up big numbers in this tournament.

Things will be rounded out by Lukas Dragicevic (Tri-City Americans), Emile Perron (Cape Breton Eagles), and Quinn Mantei (Brandon Wheat Kings), bringing what should be a relatively solid defensive group to completion. It’s possible that you might notice a bit of a trend with the defensive groups for these U17 teams, and that’s size. Only one member of the Team Red defence is under 6-foot and it’s Morin, who brings plenty of intangibles to the table.

Goaltending

Jackson Unger, Kyle Hagen.

The trend of limited major junior hockey experience for Team Red continues into their goaltending situation. Jackson Unger has played just one game for the Warriors and has spent the majority of his season playing with a prep school. Through seven games with Edge Prep School, Unger has a GAA of 2.74 and a SV% of .882.

His partner, Kyle Hagen, is also lacking in the way of major junior experience and has spent this season playing with the Lac St-Louis Lions in U18 AAA. Through 13 games, he has allowed a round GAA of exactly 3.00 and has a SV% of .909. It might be a bit more of an experiment to see who can get things done compared to the other squads, but again, Hockey Canada wouldn’t have them here if they weren’t thought to both be capable goaltenders.

Team Canada Black

I’m not too sure how these teams are going to stack up against the Women’s Olympic teams and even each other, but if I was tied down and forced to pick my favourite (of the U17 teams), my money would be on Team Canada Black. Coached by Stéphane Julien, the head coach of the Pheonix of the QMJHL, they bring some of the most interesting and exciting offensive talents to the table. They have a couple of players on this roster that have set their respective leagues alight this season and seeing them get to play together should be something to witness.

Forwards

David Adaszynski, Denver Barkey, Zach Benson, Mael St-Denis, Calum Ritchie, Kooper Gizowski, Logan Crosby, Vincent Collard, Maxime Coursol, Alex Pharand, Nick Lardis, Tanner Howe, Ty Halaburda, Colby Barlow.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off the bat. Pairing Zach Benson and Calum Ritchie on the same team might be the deadliest combination in the entire tournament, especially if they get the chance to play on the same line. With the Winnipeg ICE this season, Benson has scored 11 goals and added 11 assists in just 15 games. The ICE have been a force all season long and he isn’t even close to the top of his team in scoring, but he has been very good to start. Ritchie has also been a force for the Oshawa Generals this season, scoring nine goals with 10 assists in his first 16 OHL games.

Calum Ritchie Oshawa Generals
Calum Ritchie, Oshawa Generals (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

The offensive flash and ability to score won’t stop there for Team Black. Fans in Ottawa might know what Petes forward Nick Lardis brings to an offence by now, but for those that don’t, the answer is a lot. He has been one of the Petes’ most promising young players this season and already has nine goals and 14 points in just 17 games. Tanner Howe of the Regina Pats can also be mentioned in this conversation. He sits tied for third on the Pats in points and is just two points behind Connor Bedard. He has scored seven goals in 17 games so far and has his point total up to 12.

The rest of the offence is filled out with more talented players, but nothing to the high-scoring extent of the top of the lineup. Players like Colby Barlow of the Owen Sound Attack, Ty Halaburda of the Giants, and Vincent Collard of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar give this team a deep roster that should be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone in this tournament. If I got one wish, however, it would be to see Ritchie and Benson on the same line as much as possible. I think we all deserve to be treated to that.

Defence

Cameron Allen, Caden Price, Saige Weinstein, Oliver Bonk, Tanner Molendyk, Jordan Tourigny, Matteo Rotondi.

As we continue down the roster of Team Black, you start to wonder just how much offence this team needs. When comparing the actual numbers, their defence has been relatively high-scoring with their club teams this season in comparison to Team White and Team Red. That scoring is headlined by Cameron Allen of the Guelph Storm and Mattero Rotondi of the Voltigeurs who both have eight points with their respective teams this season.

Cam Allen Guelph Storm
Cam Allen, Guelph Storm (Photo by Luke Durda/OHL Images)

While those two guys are the leading scores for the Team Black defence, they do also have Caden Price of the Rockets and Jordan Tourigny of the Shawinigan Cataractes who have each scored seven points for their teams this season. Just by the relatively high point totals for these defencemen, you would think they would be smaller guys, but that isn’t really the case. Tourigny is the only really undersized player on the defence, but the other six guys are either pushing 6-foot or above. They should have a bit of an edge physically, too.

The rest of the defence will be rounded out with Saige Weinstein of the Spokane Chiefs, Oliver Bonk of the London Knights, and Tanner Molendyk of the Saskatoon Blades. As things stand right now, Bonk has only played one game for the Knights and has spent more time with St. Thomas Stars of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL), but you might recognize the name, especially if you are a fan of the Ottawa Senators. He is the son of former third-overall pick in 1994, Radek Bonk. Alongside Weinstein and Molendyk, Team Black should have solid defensive depth, making them all the scarier.

Goaltending

Mason Vaccari, Joseph Costanzo.

If there was to be a weak spot for Team Black, it’s probably in goal. They have the services of Mason Vaccari who has spent the entire 2021-22 season so far with the Cobourg Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockcey League dispute being property of the Frontenacs. Alongside him is Niagara IceDogs goaltender, Joseph Costanzo who has just a couple of games played at the OHL level.

Neither goaltender is bad, however. Both are playing in this tournament for a reason. They are among the top goaltenders available in this age bracket, and Hockey Canada wouldn’t bring players they don’t think can be contributors to the team at a high level, but they are incredibly inexperienced against the level of talent they will be going up against. This team will be very solid around them and they should be able to help their goaltenders out along the way, but if they can get the occasional big save out of Vaccari and Costanzo, Team Black is going to be incredibly tough to knock off.

A Great Tournament to Go To

If you are on the fence about attending this tournament, I would highly encourage you to get to a couple of games. You might not be hearing about these players yet, but in a year from now, some of them are going to be the talk of the town in the NHL Entry Draft. Additionally, a chance to see the Women’s National Team in action is always a treat. This is going to be a fantastic display of hockey at the Arena at TD Place this weekend and into next week, and it would be fantastic to see the stands filled much like they were for the Rivalry Series on Tuesday night.


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