Prince George Cougars centres Riley Heidt and Ryker Singer are in for a hockey treat, starting Friday in Ottawa.
For the next six days they will be playing in the Capital City Challenge, among 66 of Canada’s top-ranked under-17 male players of three teams, against Canada’s national women’s team.
Bodychecking will not be allowed in the unique male-versus-female tournament, considered a one-off replacement for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge international tournament, which was canceled due to the pandemic.
For 16-year-olds Singer and Heidt, both first-round draft picks of the Cougars in 2020, the Capital City tournament will be their first Hockey Canada assignment of their young hockey careers.
“It’s really exciting getting there and meeting the new guys and just the competitive hockey is know is going to be there,” said Singer. “The compete(-level) and skill is going to be unreal there so I’m excited to get out against some really good players and just do my best.”
The national women’s team is using the tournament as another stepping stone in their path to the 2022 Olympics in February in Beijing.
“I think it’s a good idea to give the players something new and give the fans something new to watch,” said Singer.
The women have played five games against junior A male teams in Alberta and B.C. and were outscored a combined 30-5, but they beat Finland twice in exhibition games and are 2-2 in the Rivalry Series against the United States.
“We can’t underestimate them just because they’re girls,” said Heidt. “They’re a great hockey team and we’re going to have to come in there and play our best, especially because there’s no contact so you’ve got to change your game up a little bit because that’s a huge part of the game.”
Hockey Canada has grouped the male players on the Black, Red or White teams. Singer is among 13 forwards playing for Canada White, which will open the tournament Friday at 9 a.m. against the national women’s team. Heidt is playing for Canada Red, which has its first game scheduled for 4 p.m. PT against Canada Black.
“It’s going to be an awesome experience, especially because I get to go with another guy on my team,” said Heidt. “We’re excited to step our foot in the door. Every kid wants to be on Team Canada, it’s a huge accomplishment for us.”
Each team is guaranteed three round-robin games and one playoff game leading up to the medal round. The bronze-medal game is scheduled for Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. PT, followed by the gold-medal game at 4 p.m. PT.
Heidt and Singer will fly Thursday to Spokane, Wash., where the Cougars will be playing Spokane Chiefs on Friday in the fourth game of a five-game roadtrip that starts Saturday in Kelowna.
Singer is fromParadise Hill, Sask., a small farming community northeast of Saskatoon, 40 kilometres from the Alberta border and he grew up playing minor hockey in Lloydmister, Alta., his birthplace. The Cougars used their 22nd overall pick in the 2020 WHL draft to select him. He scored his first WHL goal Oct. 22 in Victoria and gave Cougar fans something a reason to cheer early in the third period last Friday when he roofed a backhander in for his second career WHL goal on the way to a 4-3 loss to the Tri-City Americans.
“That definitely felt good to get off my chest, I went on a little drought there, and it was definitely good to put one in the back of the net,” said Singer, who centres the fourth line and has two goals and two assists through 15 games.
“I’ve learned to use my speed in different ways and different areas of the ice and making plays at a higher speed is what I need to improve on.”
Heidt leads the Cougars with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and has played all 17 games. The Saskatoon native, chosen by the Cats second overall in 2020, played all 22 games last spring in the B.C. Division bubble and put up eight points. He drew the primary assist in Craig Armstrong’s opening goal of the game Saturday - a 4-2 Cougars’ win over Tri-City which ended the Cats’ four-game losing streak.
“I think all of us were fighting the puck a bit the last four and there was a lot of frustration going on and you could see that. We were hungry and came out strong and got a quick one and it went from there,” said Heidt, who collected all but one of his points this season in the first 10 games.
“I had a great start to the season but these last four or five games I’ve just been fighting the puck and it’s been hard, when we’re losing games and I’m not on the scoresheet, I’m not doing my job. It’ll be good to get away for a bit and clear my mind and I’m come back stronger. I know these guys will do the job when we’re gone.”