Why as many as five of the eight teams remaining could win gold
The 2023 Canada Winter Games are nearing its conclusion in the province of Prince Edward Island. This bi-annual event features some of the best youth hockey players in the U16 age group. What started with one team from each of the 13 Canadian provinces and territories is now down to just eight. With pool play wrapped up, and qualification games decided on Wednesday, the quarterfinals are set to begin on Thursday afternoon.
Through game action thus far, several players have stood out as expected heading into the tournament. First overall pick in the 2022 WHL Draft, Gavin McKenna leads all skaters in goals (13) and assists (12). His Yukon Territories squad was eliminated from contention on Wednesday after a 13-3 loss to New Brunswick. Ryan Roobroeck leads first-place Team Ontario with six points in three games. Additionally, Will Sharpe has shown to be one of the best 2007-born defensemen in the country with five points in three games for Team British Columbia.
There’s been some surprises as well. Team Newfoundland dominated Group C play, with an average margin of victory of 7.0 goals per game. Forwards Jabez Seymour and Ty Peddigrew have been at the forefront of those efforts with 10 and nine points respectively. Also, Alberta’s top goaltender Ryan Grout has posted a 1.49 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in two winning efforts. He has been one of the top goalies in the tournament thus far.
Ranking the remaining teams with the best chance to win the 2023 Canada Winter Games
1. Team Saskatchewan
They came into the Canada Winter Games as one of the favorites to win the whole thing, and through their first three games, they’ve shown just why. Only three goals allowed thus far, and they have yet to trail in a game at any point this week. They’ve gotten stellar play from Carsen Adair, Joby Baumuller and Luke Moroz, not to mention eight different skaters have contributed offensively. Names like Cole Reschny, Reese Hamilton and Brayden Smith have been relatively quiet thus far. Come the elimination rounds, Team Saskatchewan has more than enough talent to compete with anyone in the field.
2. Team Ontario
Another heavy favorite, Team Ontario handled its business in pool play. One overtime loss to Team Alberta was the club’s only blemish. That game featured a lot of special teams down the stretch, and had it featured more 5-on-5 action, the result may have been different as well. Regardless, Ryan Roobroeck and William Moore have shown up as expected. The top two prospects in the province have combined for 12 points, and factored in on a third of the team’s offense. I’m not ready to call it defensive struggles, but giving up 10 goals in three games is a slight concern. It’s been against some stiff competition, though, and Ontario offensively is good enough to just outscore opponents in order to get to the championship game.
3. Team British Columbia
They gave up four first-period goals to Team Ontario in their matchup on Sunday. It was the first game — first period — of the Canada Winter Games for either team. Had it gone just a bit different, so too, could the outcome and the standings. BC could earn a second shot at Ontario, if it can survive a quarterfinal matchup with Manitoba. They’ve got arguably the best defenseman in the tournament in Will Sharpe. Plus, forwards Benjamin Kindel, Grant Reid and Ty Coupland are firing on all cylinders. I give Ontario a slight advantage over BC, but a potential semifinal rematch could yield a much different result in the game and the entire tournament.
4. Team Alberta
It’s the toughest draw of any team remaining in the Canada Winter Games. Team Alberta shares that burden with Team Quebec, as the two go head-to-head in the quarterfinals. I favor Alberta ever so slightly in that matchup, but whoever survives will have the toughest road to gold of anyone in the field. Great goaltending always gives you a chance in elimination games. Alberta certainly has a leg up on the competition with Ryan Grout between the pipes. Offense has to get going a bit from guys like Braeden Cootes, Hayden Harsanyi and company for Team AB to make a run though.
5. Team Quebec
Everything I said about Alberta, minus the goaltending. Offense has been borderline great for Team Quebec thus far. They’ve competed in every game, including out-scoring Manitoba in a 6-4 thriller and even outshot Saskatchewan 31-20 despite the 5-2 loss. If Quebec can reel it in defensively, and get some timely saves from Samuel Meloche and/or William Lacelle, it could completely change the playoff picture. Émile Guité leads the team in scoring, but it’s been a group effort with 10 different goal scorers, and all but two skaters recording at least a point.
6. Team Manitoba
We get into the “long shot” area here near the last teams remaining in the field. It’s not totally impossible for Manitoba to make a run, but they need to pull off an upset early to have a chance. Drawing British Columbia in the quarterfinals isn’t a great matchup. However, Ontario was able to beat them by jumping out to a quick and fast first-period lead. Can Manitoba’s Graham Jones and Cole Temple replicate that on Thursday? Get out to an early lead, and then play desperate, shot-blocking defensive hockey. Crazier things have happened in the game.
7. Team New Brunswick
The win in Wednesday’s qualification game was Team New Brunswick’s first of the tournament. However, they’ve competed in just about every game thus far. All three of New Brunswick’s losses were within reaching distance heading into the third period, including the 7-1 loss to Quebec. Their biggest problem is offense, with just three goals in three games. Top prospect Liam Kilfoil hadn’t recorded a point until the 13-3 win over Yukon in the qualification round. If New Brunswick is to have success, the team needs to get going offensively. A blowout win on Wednesday could provide a boost of confidence.
8. Team Nova Scotia
At minus-15, Team Nova Scotia has the worst goal differential of any team remaining in the Canada Winter Games. They gave up 12 goals and nine goals in pool play to British Columbia and Ontario. Good thing is, both of those opponents are on the other half of the bracket. Bad news is, they get Saskatchewan in the quarterfinals. Cole Chandler has scored three of Nova Scotia’s six goals, and he’ll have to produce quite a few more to give his team a fighting chance.
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