Kaedan Korczak hesitates when asked how many days he’s spent in hotel rooms this hockey season.
He’s not reluctant, it just takes him a long time to count them all.
“More than two months,” he said Friday. “It’s been a long process, for sure.”
Korczak — the 20-year-old Rockets defenceman — is finally back in Kelowna this week after playing for the Henderson Silver Knights of the American Hockey League.
Prior to that, he helped Team Canada win silver at the World Junior hockey championship.
That’s where his hotel odyssey began.
He’s been living out of a suitcase since Nov. 16, including a two-week stint in isolation after Team Canada endured positive COVID-19 tests at the world juniors.
Life is finally starting to look a little better, though. With vaccinations increasing, and junior hockey back on the ice (with some luck and hard work) on March 26, Korczak can reflect on the past year of his career.
After the Vegas Golden Knights selected him in the second round of the 2019 NHL draft, Korczak returned to the Rockets ahead of a WHL season filled with anticipation. The Rockets were preparing to host the 2020 Memorial Cup, and Korczak was among the players expected to play for Team Canada at the worlds.
It sent Korczak home to Yorkton, Sask., with questions that wouldn’t be answered for months. His last game for the Rockets was March 11, 2020. It finally started to turn in November when he joined Team Canada and played seven games en route to silver.
Then it was nine more games with Henderson before he was returned to the Rockets this week.
Normally, players in their “19-year-old” seasons can’t play in the AHL, but an exception was made this year due to the pandemic.
It gave Korczak and teammate Dillon Hamaliuk (San Jose Sharks) valuable ice time at the pro level.
“The biggest thing was playing with older guys, more mature pro hockey players,” Korczak said. “Guys had lots of NHL games, lots of experience in the AHL, and just playing with them and seeing how they prepared for each practice and every game is something that I’ll bring back to the Rockets and hopefully I’ll pass down to the younger guys on our team this year.”
The first difference he noticed at the AHL level compared to junior is the attitudes.
They practice at full tempo all the time, something Korczak said has allowed him to develop good habits.
Now that he’s back at the junior level, he doesn’t want to change his pace, and only wants to improve every day.
“I’ve been feeling good and feeling confident in my game at the pro level. … I’m going to try my best, keep my head down and keep my pace up because it’s only for not even two months and then I’ll be back up there hopefully.”
While he’s here, he’s hoping to embrace his final games of junior hockey. Given how well he did in Nevada, it would be no surprise to see Korczak a full-time NHL or AHL player in 2021-22.
Then, with COVID-19 hopefully behind everyone, fans will return to watch the Golden and Silver Knights and enjoy all that Nevada has to offer.
He spent a bit of time enjoying the Nevada weather, great golf courses and attractions, and can see himself living there full-time.
Henderson is a suburb of Las Vegas, and the Silver Knights are about 15 or 20 minutes from their bigger NHL brothers.
“Living in Vegas is pretty cool,” Korczak admitted.
He found some familiar faces there, too.
Vegas selected Peyton Krebs, a longtime foe when he played for the Kootenay Ice in the WHL, in the first round ahead of Korczak.
The Silver Knights also added this year longtime Kelowna Rocket Tyrell Golbourne.
“All the guys were great. It was just a great experience, overall, for sure.”
On the ice, Korczak collected two assists in nine games to go along with 15 shots, eight penalty minutes and a plus-six rating. During the games he played, he was among the leaders in ice time.
“It was better than I had hoped, for sure,” Korczak said. “Going there, not knowing what the plan was if I was going to be in Vegas or if I was going to be in Henderson — or not really knowing how I would fit in at the pro level — getting that experience was great.
“Knowing that I’ll be able to play there either after this season or next year, having that confidence in where I’ll be is something that is pretty cool. I’m look forward to starting my pro career.”
Saying that, coming back to junior is a little bittersweet, so he’s focusing on the positives: He gets to see teammates again, and play more games for head coach Kris Mallette, who coached the defence when Korczak broke into the WHL.
That, and at least he gets to live with his billets in Kelowna, which comes with its own benefits. “I haven’t even been here a day, and it’s been awesome,” Korczak said. “It’s definitely good to come back and have home-cooked meals.”