Sask. players compete to make Canada's National Junior Team

Hockey Canada has released its long list to Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp.

Four Saskatchewan products will be attending the camp in Red Deer, Alta., from Nov. 16 to Dec. 13.

Prince Albert’s Braden Schneider, Yorkton’s Kaeden Korczak and Saskatoon’s Connor Zary and Adam Beckman will all be vying for a chance to represent Canada on home soil at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton.

Schneider, a defenseman with the Brandon Wheat Kings, is the only one of the foursome that’s been to the U-20 camp before.

With the exception of Beckman, a forward with the Spokane Chiefs, all have played on Hockey Canada’s development teams in the past.

According to Alan Millar, the U20 lead for the Program of Excellence management group, all the continuity in coaching staff, management and players has softened the blow of scouting a team in a pandemic.

“If you ever had to try and put a team together under these circumstances, we’re surrounded by the right people in terms of the familiarity with the players,” said Millar, who is also the General Manager of the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“Traditionally we have a summer camp, a CHL season and a Canada Russia series,” added Millar.

He said scouting has been done almost exclusively over video, save for a trip to Quebec in October.

Saskatoon Blades Head Coach Mitch Love is one of the coaches who has been with the players for the past few years.

Love was an assistant coach with Canadian Under 17 program from 2015-17. He then moved into an assistant coach role with Canada’s Under 18 program, helping them win gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2019.

Love continued the golden success as an assistant coach with last year’s junior team in the Czech Republic in 2020.

“There’s some familiarity there with the players and how they are both on and off the ice, and hopefully that’ll be something that will come into play when we have limited time together,” Love said.

Roughly 30 players are usually invited to camp.

However, this year the camp ballooned to 46. With the limited in-person scouting, the group wanted a larger class to evaluate.

And Millar says with little to no meaningful games over the last eight months, they plan on doing a lot of team play in Red Deer, which will help prepare for the tournament, which starts Dec. 26.

Kelowna Rockets defenseman Korczak has been training in Calgary most of the summer, and will stay in Alberta in the days leading up to the beginning of the camp.

“I’ve dreamt of it since I was a kid, to play for Team Canada, so it’s just one step closer to making the team,” said Korczak, who played Midget AAA for the Yorkton Maulers.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of those teams in the past and I think they’re pretty comfortable with myself and I’m pretty comfortable with them.”