Though the World U-17 Hockey Challenge is a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic for the second year in a row, Canada’s best and brightest young players will still get a chance to shine on the national stage, with the one-time only Capital City Challenge taking place this week.
In what will surely be an electric atmosphere inside The Arena at TD Place, three teams comprised of the country’s best U-17 players will face off against each other, as well as the Canadian Women’s National Team, who will continue their preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics, from Friday, November 26 through Wednesday, December 1.
As has become commonplace on the national stage, the Ottawa 67’s will again be represented at this year’s tournament. 2021 First-round draft pick Chris Barlas will suit up for Team Canada White, and second-round selection Luca Pinelli joins Team Canada Red.
A local product, Barlas has appeared in 13 games for the Barber Poles this season, after being briefly sidelined to begin the campaign. With the team dealing with a rash of injuries at forward, he’s taken on an increased role of late, with head coach Dave Cameron praising the rookie centre’s competitiveness, and physicality.
Through his first 15 games, winger Pinelli has tallied seven points, scoring his first OHL goal on the road against his hometown Hamilton Bulldogs, on November 13. The Stoney Creek, Ontario native is the brother of Kitchener Rangers captain Francesco Pinelli, a second-round selection of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings this past summer.
While this year’s tournament won’t be the same as the broad-scale international competitions of the past, 67’s wearing the red, white, and black of Team Canada is a familiar sight, especially over the past few seasons.
In 2019, Jack Beck was named to Team Canada White at the tournament in Medicine Hat, Alberta and Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The Richmond Hill, Ontario native tallied a goal in the tournament, before going on to become one of the Barber Poles’ top forwards. Beck was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames, and currently leads the 67’s in goals with 11, tied with Vsevolod Gaidamak.
The 2018 edition of the tournament in Quispamsis, New Brunswick, and Saint John, Newfoundland saw three 67’s represent Canada, two of whom are fixtures on the current iteration of the team. Cam Tolnai represented Ottawa among Team Canada White, scoring a goal through five games in the tournament. He is currently the Barber Poles’ leading scorer, with 22 points through 19 games on the 2021 season.
Will Cranley was in goal for Team Canada Red at the 2018 tournament, alongside then-67’s teammate Matthew Maggio. The Barber Poles netminder appeared in two games, posting a 1-1-0 record, before being drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues. After serving as a quality backup to Cedrick Andree, Cranley has become the unquestioned started for the 67’s in 2021, and a key reason why they currently sit near the top of the OHL Eastern Conference.
While Barlas and Pinelli have plenty of time to join the likes of Beck, Tolnai, and Cranley as top-end players on the 67’s, one thing is clear; the tradition of excellence built by the Ottawa 67’s still stands strong, even in the shadow of a season lost to a pandemic. A Barber Poles team that is as young as they’ve had in some time is fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and two of their brightest young stars again find themselves on the national stage.
Tickets for the 2021 Capital City Challenge can be found here.