Last year Connor Zary was invited to Team Canada’s World Junior tryout camp, but didn’t make it. At the time, then coach Dale Hunter told him to be ready – he’d be invited back. And, although Hunter’s no longer the coach, he predicted the future correctly. Zary was once again invited to the selection camp to see if he could make Canada’s World Junior Championship team.
Zary Was Disappointed But Encouraged Last Year
Zary recalled how important those words or encouragement were for him: “(coach) Dale Hunter said to me last year — you impressed us a lot, you got your name out there and obviously you didn’t make the team, but there’s going to be a really good chance for you to be on the team next year.” (from “Flames prospect Connor Zary earns another trip to world junior selection camp,” Wes Gilbertson, Calgary Herald, 29/10/20).
Zary added, “That meant a lot. It doesn’t really soften the blow at the time, but it’s something to look forward to. So I’m really honored and excited to get the opportunity to go to camp, but that’s not all I want. I want to be on that team, and I want to be a difference-maker.”
Zary Was Drafted During Round One of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft
The Calgary Flames chose the 19-year-old Zary during the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (24th overall). The young Saskatoon native has finished his third season of junior hockey with the Kamloops Blazers. He’s a rising young center, who’s improved every year; and, this season he 38 goals and 48 assists (for 86 points) in 57 WHL games.
He’s honored to be invited to the World Junior tryouts, but he knows they will different this year than last. Often any Team Canada tryouts happen quickly, but two factors come into play for this season. First, there are a lot of talented young players who aren’t playing hockey; and, second, with the pause in minor hockey caused by COVID-19, there’s really no reason to rush things.
A third reason, perhaps, is that it’s good development for these young players to practice and play against the best competition – and, that’s exactly who will be at this camp. It will be a strong group. Because the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and all US NCAA hockey is suspended for the time being, the selection camp for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship is planned to be conducted over the course of almost a month.
The Schedule for the World Junior Tryouts
Specifically, these youngsters will show up in Red Deer on November 16. Then, the selected team will enter the “bubble” in Edmonton on December 13. The Canadians are working toward a home-ice title defence, and Hockey Canada has invited 47 players to this unusual camp. Other years they might only invite half that number.
Word is out that, if the New York Rangers allow it, the #1 NHL Draft Pick for this year Alexis Lafreniere could be added at a later time.
Joining Zary at the camp is another Flames’ forward prospect Jakob Pelletier. The 19-year-old Pelletier was chosen by the Flames during round one of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (26th overall). He had been invited to camp last winter, but had a concussion just before camp. As it turns out, Zary was his injury replacement. Because the QMJHL is the one league playing this season, Pelletier is playing with the Val d’Or Foreurs and in five games so far this season has scored a goal and six assists for seven points.
Zary recalled last year, saying, “I was there for four days, I think, last year. And this camp is four weeks.”
He likes that, and added, “So if you do have a bad day or you have a really good day, you can’t get too high or too low. You have to stay even-keel, because it’s a long process. It’s going to be just like the tournament. It’s not one game — ‘Ok, I had a couple goals, I’m on the top of the world.’ It’s going to be a grind.”
Zary Has Already Visited the Saddledome and Has Met Flames Players
Earlie in October, Zary was invited to the Saddledome and spent a few days meeting many of the Flames administrators and even working out in the weight room with future teammates such as Mark Giordano, Milan Lucic, Rasmus Andersson, and Dillon Dube.
Zary was impressed, “Watching them work out and seeing how hard they work and just being able to be in that environment and see what those guys do every day, that was pretty cool.”
He gave Giordano as an example, saying “Just look at a guy like Giordano — he’s a Norris Trophy winner and one of the best defencemen in the league year-in and year-out, a pretty consistent guy, but to see how hard he still works and how much he still puts into his game even though he has made a name for himself.”
What did Zary learn? He noted, “I think when you look at that, it puts it into perspective that you have to keep working and there is a long road to go. For me, I enjoy that part — working out and trying to be in good shape and working hard. I think that’s something to look forward to and those are guys for me to look up to.”
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