After winning the postponed tournament just four short months ago, a 19-year-old St. Albert product looks for a second medal with Canada’s U20 team.
Last year’s World Junior Championships in Edmonton were a surprise for everyone — but perhaps more for local Senators prospect Zack Ostapchuk than anyone else. After initially being left off Canada’s roster last December, COVID cancellations created an opportunity for Ostapchuk to wear the Canadian sweater at the rescheduled event in August.
Canada edged out Finland in that tournament with a 3-2 OT nailbiter, ending an event that started eight months earlier.
Indeed, this time last year, Ostapchuk had never competed for Canada on the international stage. Now, as the country gets set for another edition of its most cherished holiday spectacle, he has the chance to join an elite handful of hockey legends who have won the tournament twice.
“It’s not very often you get to play in a World Juniors in your hometown, so it’s a dream come true,” Ostapchuk told Hockey Canada ahead of his August WJC debut. “I honestly couldn’t be more proud. Getting the call now is really cool for me. It’s a big honour being recognized as one of the best junior players in the country.”
In August, Ostapchuk tallied a goal and two assists in seven games played with Team Canada.
With games being split between Halifax and Moncton, Ostapchuk and his teammates will once again play with home-ice advantage as they look to deliver Canada its 20th first-place finish.
At 6-foot three-inches, 205lbs, the St. Albert-native forward brings size and speed to the Canadian roster, critical attributes that have helped him rack up 29 points in only 21 games played so far this season for the Vancouver Giants — his second year as team captain.
A veteran of the U15 AAA St. Albert Sabres, Ostapchuk has been with the Giants since the 2018-2019 season and was selected by Ottawa in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Ostapchuk is one of eight returning players from the group that won gold in the COVID-delayed championship over the summer. British Columbian Connor Bedard, a Regina Pats star who most analysts project to be the first overall pick in the 2023 Draft, will lead Canada’s offensive unit alongside Shane Wright, an 18-year-old centreman with the Seattle Kraken.
Canada will get started with group play on Boxing Day against Czechia before facing Germany on the 28th, Austria on the 29th, and Sweden on New Year’s Eve.
As was the case in August, the Russian Federation remains barred from international competition by the IIHF due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The eighth spot left vacant by Canada’s longtime rival will be filled by Latvia, a group that was promoted from Division 1A after making it to the finals of that league’s 2021 competition.