Kelowna Rockets defenceman Kaedan Korczak will have the chance to do something this week that he hasn’t had the opportunity to do very often during his WHL career: play in Saskatchewan.
From Yorkton, Sask., he is to suit up for Team WHL against Team Russia at the CIBC Canada Russia Series tonight and Thursday in his home province.
He’ll be joined by fellow Rockets Nolan Foote and Dillon Hamaliuk on a star-studded team that will face Team Russia in Saskatoon today and Prince Albert for Game 6 to conclude the series on Thursday.
“It’ll be pretty exciting to play in Saskatchewan,” said Korczak. “I’m going to have lots of my family and friends there, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The series provides Hockey Canada with another look at players ahead of the world junior selection camp.
The six-game Canada Russia series features regional league teams of Canadian junior team candidates competing against the Russian junior team hopefuls.
Team CHL has won 12 times in the event’s history, with Russia emerging victorious on four occasions.
Korczak has played for Hockey Canada before. He helped Canada claim gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and previously donned the Maple Leaf at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and IIHF U18 championships.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound defenceman has found a new gear in his game this season. Traditionally tasked with a shutdown role, he’s found his offensive stride. Korczak’s fired 50 shots on net this season, he’s fourth in Rockets scoring and leads the defence in points with 14 (2G, 12A) in 19 games.
“I’m trying to help with the offence this year, just trying to keep it simple. We lost an offensive defenceman from last season, I’m trying to fill his role a little bit.”
A second-round draft choice of the Vegas Golden Knights, he soaked up as much as he could during his first NHL training camp this fall, taking in tips and even making a new friend that was once on the other side of the Kelowna-Kamloops rivalry.
“It was a very cool experience, getting to see all of the big NHL players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmidt and guys like that. Their coaching staff and veteran players gave me tips and advice to bring back that has helped my game.
“Former Kamloops Blazers goalie Dylan Ferguson showed me the ropes. It was his third camp, so he had been through it before. We’re with the same agency; we kind of already knew each other heading into camp.”
Korczak returned to Kelowna to find a familiar face in the Rockets locker room, too, a former teammate from Melville, Sask.
Carson Sass had been acquired from the Tri-City Americans in mid-September. The two played together on the Yorkton Maulers during the 2015-16 midget hockey season.
“I was in Vegas when we traded for him, I texted him and welcomed him to the team. Four years ago we were partners on a midget team, and now we’re back together here, it’s pretty cool for two small towns in Saskatchewan to have two players on a storied team like Kelowna.”
Korczak will be joined by another Yorkton resident for the Canada Russia series, Saskatoon Blades goaltender Nolan Maier. Team WHL will look to win the series, which is tied at two apiece heading into its final leg.
You can watch Korczak, Foote and Hamaliuk take on Team Russia tonight at 5:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet.