As soon as Zack Ostapchuk was invited to Canada’s National Junior Team
summer camp in preparation for the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, he
aspired to play for Team Canada during the holiday season. Little did he
know that dream would come true four months earlier.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really expecting it,” says Ostapchuk, who will take the
ice with Team Canada at the rescheduled 2022 World Juniors in Edmonton. “As
soon as I got invited to that Halifax team [camp] for next year, that was
my biggest goal for the season. I really wanted to crack that roster and I
believed I could.
“To get the call now, this is really cool for me. It’s a big honour being
recognized as one of the best junior players in the country.”
This will be Ostapchuk’s first time playing for Team Canada in an
international event. Before being invited to summer camp this year, the
19-year-old last wore the Maple Leaf at Canada’s national under-17 development camp in July 2019.
Even more exciting for Ostapchuk: the tournament is being hosted
practically in his backyard.
“It’s not very often you get to play in a World Juniors in your hometown,
so it’s a dream come true,” the St. Albert, Alta., product says. “I
honestly couldn’t be more proud.”
Securing a roster spot with Team Canada is the cherry on top of a strong
season for Ostapchuk. After being selected 39th overall by Ottawa in the
2021 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old began the 2021-22 season at the Senators’
training camp, where he absorbed what a day-to-day routine looks like for
“You don’t really realize… how well they take care of their bodies and
their nutrition, and all the little stuff like that that translates onto
the ice,” he says. “It was really cool for me to see because I was never
really a big preparation guy. I kind of just go out there, but I really
changed my outlook on how to perform.”
He rejoined the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the
second game of the regular season, but it took time for Ostapchuk to adjust
back to playing junior hockey.
“I actually really struggled at the start of the year,” he says. “My first
10-15 games, I was kind of lost out there at the junior level, honestly.
It’s just kind of different.”
Ostapchuk is not alone in finding the move back to junior hockey
challenging after playing with the pros. As Giants head coach Michael Dyck
explains, the transition is difficult for most young players.
“In all honesty, it’s probably an easier place to play at pro where
everybody plays their possession and you know where everybody’s at,” says
Dyck, who is also an assistant coach with Canada’s National Junior Team.
“Obviously Zack, he’s a high achiever. He wanted to do really well, and I
think maybe at times he put some pressure on himself to be the offensive
guy after being drafted so high and doing so well in Ottawa.”
After moving from the wing to centre, Ostapchuk settled in and found his
confidence again with the Giants. In 60 games, the 19-year-old registered
26 goals and 43 points. That momentum carried into the postseason, where
Ostapchuk recorded seven goals and 23 points in 12 games before Vancouver
was eliminated by the Kamloops Blazers in the second round of the WHL
“He played so well for us in Vancouver down the stretch,” Dyck says. “He
did a really, really good job of leading our team.”
That ability to lead the Giants is evident both on and off the ice, which
is why Ostapchuk was named captain in March after former captain Justin
Sourdif was traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings at the WHL deadline.
“Being able to lead a junior team, that’s kind of what you dream of as a
kid when you find out about junior hockey,” says Ostapchuk, who was the
12th overall pick by the Giants in the 2018 WHL Prospects Draft. “That was
always one of my goals was to wear the captaincy here in Vancouver. That
was a really big honour for me.”
Those leadership qualities will prove to be important in terms of
navigating an international tournament like World Juniors.
“Going into short-term competitions, it’s not a matter of if but when we’re
going to encounter that adversity,” Dyck says. “I think those skill sets
that he’s been able to develop as a leader are certainly going to come in
handy for us because we’re going to be looking for a lot of guys to step up
in those situations.”
Ostapchuk has been coached by Dyck for his entire WHL career. Having him on
the bench as an assistant coach makes this World Juniors even more special.
“He’s taught me a lot and he’s kind of shaped where I am today. I wouldn’t
be here without him,” Ostapchuk says. “I battled with him all season and
it’s going to be really nice to take that into the summer.”
“It’s a journey that is really special to go through with anybody from the
staff or players, but because you’ve had a history with those guys, it’s
obviously extra special,” Dyck adds. “I think it’s going to be invaluable
When Ostapchuk hits the ice in Edmonton, you can expect a 200-foot player
with a physical presence who works hard to win 50/50 battles. As someone
who has always wanted to play in this tournament, taking the ice at Rogers
Place will mean achieving a lifelong goal.
“I’ve never gotten to wear the Canadian jersey in international
competition,” he says. “For me, that’ll be the one thing I’m looking
forward to the most. Just slipping on that jersey and stepping on the ice.”