Kaeden Korczak’s selection to Canada’s squad competing in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship hosted by Edmonton carries on a long tradition for the Kelowna Rockets.
Korczak is one of eight defencemen chosen for a team hockey pundits call one of the deepest skill-level squads in Team Canada history.
Along with the training camp competition, Korczak had to sidestep COVID-19, which infected the tryout camp players, sending five home because they couldn’t meet the health status guidelines because of the pandemic.
Two other Rockets, import players Pavel Novak and Michael Krutil, will also play for the Czech Republic in the tournament.
“This camp has been unconventional from the outset with the number of players invited and the length of camp, along with the schedule adjustment due to our two-week shutdown, but we feel we have selected a group that will give us the best chance to defend our gold medal on home ice,” said Hockey Canada’s Allan Millar.
Bruce Hamilton, president and GM of the Rockets, said he was not surprised by Korczak’s selection to the Team Canada squad.
“I felt from Christmas on last season he was one of the best players in our league,” Hamilton said.
“I think he fits in well with the style of play that team will have. He is an excellent skater and does a lot of things really well offensively, but I think he will have more defensive role in looking how that team is made up this year.”
Hamilton acknowledged the depth of Team Canada this year, saying while Korczak will be one of eight defenceman selected for Team Canada, he said. “There are 15 or 16 guys in this country could have been selected for that team too.”
He said playing for the Team Canada junior squad is an honour for the individual player and team he represents, but it comes with the proverbial pressure to win.
“It is a massive commitment bringing together the best 25 players, and for the staff who work all year long building up for this tournament. It is all or nothing. For Canada, we don’t go there to compete, we go there to win.”
But Hamilton adds the difference between the top three or four teams – this year including the U.S., Sweden, Finland and the Russians -is very slim.
Korczak joins an elite group of former Rockets, dating back to defenceman Josh Gorges on the 2004 Team Canada squad, who have represented Team Canada in the tournament.
Gorges won a silver medal with Team Canada in 2004. He earned a spot on the Rockets roster just two years earlier on a tryout after being overlooked in the bantam draft.
He was also not selected in the NHL entry draft, leaving him to sign a free agent deal with San Jose Sharks and embark on a successful pro hockey career that led him also to play for Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres.
The following year defenceman Shea Weber was selected for Team Canada, playing on a team many consider the best squad ever assembled, winning the gold medal final against the Alexander Ovechkin-led Russian squad.
Forward Blake Comeau joined the 2006 team, as Team Canada again won the gold medal.
Defenceman Luke Schenn manned the blueline for the 2008 team, Canada winning a fourth consecutive gold medal.
Two Rockets were chosen for the 2009 team – defenceman Tyler Myers and forward Jamie Benn – which won another gold medal.
Rockets selections in the following years were forward Brandon McMillan (2010, silver medal); defenceman Tyson Barrie (2011, silver); defenceman Madison Bowey (2015, gold); forward Rourke Chartier (2016, bronze); forward Dillon Dube (2017 & 2018, silver and gold respectively); defenceman Cal Foote (2018, gold); and forward Nolan Foote (2020, gold).
The 2021 junior tournament opening game for Team Canada will be against Germany on Saturday, Dec. 26, 3 p.m., at Rogers Place in Edmonton, site for all the games.