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St. Albert's Ostapchuk excited after first NHL stint

Former Raider makes big-league debut in Ottawa Senators win over Crosby's Penguins last month
Zack Ostapchuk of St. Albert made his NHL debut with the Ottawa Senators on March 12. OTTAWA SENATORS/X

In what has seemingly become a pretty regular occurrence in recent years, a former St. Albert minor hockey player recently made his debut on the big stage of the National Hockey League.

Zack Ostapchuk, who played minor hockey with both the St. Albert Raiders club, as well as the Northern Alberta XTreme, said in an interview that his Ottawa Senators debut, and overall six-game stint with the Sens in March, was nothing short of exciting.

“When I went up there, we got to play six games in [11] days so I didn't have too much time to think, it was kind of just go, go, go,” he said. “Obviously, really exciting times.”

The 20-year-old centre's first NHL game was on March 12 against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Senators squeaked out a 2-1 overtime win, with Ostapchuk registering two shots and nearly 13 minutes of ice time.

He said playing his first big league game against Crosby, whom he considered one of his idols growing up, made it all the more special.

“I actually went out for dinner the night before and saw him, he was two tables over, so it kind of set in right there that I was playing him,” Ostapchuk said. “I got to take a couple of faceoffs against him and honestly he was kind of my idol growing up — he was obviously the best player in the world for a long time in my early years watching hockey — so to get to play against him in my first one, that was really cool.”

After the Senators beat the Penguins, Ostapchuk played another five games with the club before being sent down to the team's American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate team, the Belleville Senators, where he has played most of the 2023-24 season with in his first year as a professional.

Overall, the Sens won three of the six games Ostapchuk played, as the team also beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 in a shootout on March 14 and  the New York Islanders in overtime 4-3 on March 16, before losing three straight to the Carolina Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, and St. Louis Blues.

Ostapchuk wasn't able to register his first NHL point before returning to Belleville, where he's now focused on helping the team make a push for an AHL playoff berth.

“It took me probably about 10 games to get into it, but I think I adjusted rather well, and obviously it's a lot faster and guys are stronger and stuff like that,” Ostapchuk said of making the jump from the Western Hockey League (WHL), where the players are usually between the ages of 16-20, and the AHL, where the average age for players ranges between 24-27, depending on the team.

“I think I can skate out here, and pro has been a lot of fun for me,” Ostapchuk said of his time in Belleville. “I love playing here.”

As of March 28, Ostapchuk has racked up 14 goals and nine assists with Belleville, with just 10 regular season games remaining. His 14 goals on the year is fourth-highest on the team, trailing fellow Ottawa prospects Angus Crookshank, Egor Sokolov, and Garrett Pilon.

“Our division is really tight,” Ostapchuk said of Belleville's playoff chances. “It's coming down to the wire, but I think we'll get in.”

Besides trying to finish the season with more wins than losses, Ostapchuk said he's been spending time practising faceoffs and just getting quicker in every aspect of the game.

“We've been working a lot on my quickness and a lot of little details like faceoffs ... because I've got to be good in the dot,” he said. “And just plays under pressure, because you don't have as much time as you do in junior, so you have to think a little quicker and make plays quicker.”

“Our coaches here have done a really good job helping me with that.”

Ostapchuk was drafted by the Senators in the second round of the 2021 NHL entry draft. After minor hockey, he played parts of four seasons with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL, and served as the team's captain for the 2021-22 season and first half of the 2022-23 season before he was traded to with the Winnipeg Ice.

With the Ice last season, Ostapchuk and fellow St. Albertan Matthew Savoie made it to the WHL final before losing to the Seattle Thunderbirds in five games.

Ostapchuk also represented Canada twice in the World Junior Hockey Championship in 2021-22 and 2022-23.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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