Giants rookies Mazden Leslie, Ty Halaburda ready for rivalry at Hockey Canada tourney


Two 16 year olds to be on opposite sides at the Capital City Challenge, a Hockey Canada event in Ottawa featuring three age-16 teams plus the senior women’s national team that is preparing for Beijing Olympics

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Mazden Leslie and Ty Halaburda are interim adversaries.

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Leslie, a Vancouver Giants rookie defenceman, and Halaburda, a Giants rookie forward, left Tuesday for Ottawa, where they’ll take part in the Capital City Challenge starting Friday and running through Dec. 1.  

The tournament features 66 of the top Under-17 aged junior players from across the country split into three teams along with the Canadian senior national women’s squad, which is using the event to prep for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Leslie is a member of Canada White while Halaburda is suiting up for Canada Black. Their teams meet on Monday in the final game of pool play.  

“It will definitely be different after being with him the past couple of months,” Leslie said prior to departure of facing Halaburda. “He’ll play me hard. I’ll have to match that.”

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Halaburda said simply of squaring off against Leslie: “It’s going to be fun.”

Twenty 16-year-old players from across the Western Hockey League are slated to take part in the tournament. Like the Giants, there are two players apiece from the Moose Jaw Warriors, Kelowna Rockets, Prince George Cougars, Seattle Thunderbirds and Spokane Chiefs.

Hockey Canada is in charge of proceedings and they’ve said that the Capital City Challenge is a one-time event to replace the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, a long-standing Hockey Canada production that was cancelled this season and last due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Russia won the last Under-17 Challenge, which took place in 2019 in Medicine Hat and Swift Current. The Americans took second spot while the Czech Republic came in third.

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In 2018, the podium featured Russia, Finland and Sweden, respectively, in a tournament split between Quispamsis and Saint John, N.B.

Past Giants in the tournament include Justin Sourdif (2018), Cole Shepard (2018) and Bowen Byram (2017). The Under-17 Challenge originated in 1986, and has featured the likes of Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo, Bo Horvat and Joe Sakic.

“Under-17 wasn’t as competitive as the Under-18s because it’s split into three (Canadian) teams, but it’s still a great tournament,” said Sourdif, the current Vancouver No. 1 centre who was a part of Canada’s single entry in the August 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and who also went to the world junior summer development camp earlier this year. “Unfortunately, our guys this year won’t get to play against the other countries, but I’ll still tell them to take everything in and learn as much as they can.”

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Sixteen year olds in the WHL are frequently just finding their way and often having their match-ups and ice time cherry picked by their coach. Leslie and Halaburda are already playing in all situations for Giants bench boss Michael Dyck. They’ll miss four games at the Capital City Challenge, and Vancouver fans will easily note changes in Dyck’s deployment.

“It’s going to be hard to be away from the team, but I’m also excited to go to Ottawa,” Halaburda said. “And I’ll be excited to get back with the boys and play some good hockey.”

Giants general manager Barclay Parneta added: “I hope they both come back even more confident than they’ve shown so far at our level. You can learn so many things in a short time in a tournament like this.”

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NEXT GAME

Wednesday

Vancouver Giants at Portland Winterhawks

7 p.m. PT, Veterans Memorial Coliseum . Online: watch.chl.ca


Leslie, who was Vancouver’s first pick, No. 10 overall, in the 2020 WHL Draft, got a running start at this year since he was able to spend the entire hub season last spring with Vancouver as an underage call-up due to COVID-19 pushing the WHL season back into the spring and wiping out most of the minor hockey competitions. He scored five goals in 17 games with Vancouver in the hub.

Players in their 15-year-old season are usually permitted just five games as a call-up until their minor hockey season is over.

Leslie has two goals and six points in 15 games so far this time around. He has similarities to Byram, particularly with how he pushes the play offensively. Leslie is improving defensively, making better reads and becoming more and more active with his stick.

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Rookie Ty Halaburda sneaks a peek in the direction of the photographer, while getting lots of love from his teammates, after scoring his first ever Western Hockey League goal against the Kelowna Rockets on Oct. 29.
Rookie Ty Halaburda sneaks a peek in the direction of the photographer, while getting lots of love from his teammates, after scoring his first ever Western Hockey League goal against the Kelowna Rockets on Oct. 29. Photo by Rob Wilton

Parneta said that Leslie, a 6-foot-1, 182-pound right-handed shot from Lloydminster, Alta., spends as much time at Vancouver’s Ladner Leisure Centre practice digs as any player on the team.

“I love his compete, I love his confidence. I also love that he’s a student of the game. He wants to learn and get better,” Parneta said.

Halaburda was Vancouver’s second pick in 2020, No. 32 overall. The 5-foot-11, 164-pound right-handed shot from Victoria has two goals and seven points through 15 games. He’s particularly diligent defensively for a young forward.

“He’s a good combination of skill, responsible play, work ethic and determination,” Parenta said.

Parneta also lauds his maturity, saying that “he has leadership qualities even as a young guy.”

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