With the experience of his first Hockey Canada camp under his belt, Luke Zazula has his sights set on making the jump to major junior for the upcoming season.
The 16-year-old from Langley called his time in Calgary ‘breathtaking.’
“Every kid wants to throw on a Canadian sweater, so it is an honour and I was really happy to be selected for the camp,” he said.
“I didn’t really expect it because a lot of people said it was based on the (bantam) draft and stuff, so I was pretty surprised to get the call.”
Zazula was one of the 111 hockey players who were invited to the Hockey Canada national under-17 development camp, which ran July 26 to Aug. 1.
Of those players, only a dozen were selected in the fourth round or later in their respective bantam drafts.
The five-foot-eight, 168-pound defenceman was one of 36 players at his position in Calgary.
From this camp, 66 players will be selected to represent Canada on one of three teams at the 2016 World under-17 Hockey Challenge. It begins on Oct. 20 and will be hosted by Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“It was really good and a lot of fun (but), it was a grueling week, very tiring,” Zazula admitted.
“But in general, it was just a great experience.”
“The biggest thing I learned was where I stand in Canada (compared) to all the other kids.”
“Hopefully I get to do it again in Sault Ste. Marie,” he added.
“Every kid thinks about that when they are young, throwing that sweater on. It would be unreal.”
Focus now on WHL training camp with Kamloops
Now back from the camp, Zazula is focusing on earning a roster spot with Kamloops for the WHL season.
He played three games last year for the Blazers as an underage player registering one assist.
The key will be finding a way to handle playing in such a physical league against older players, some of whom could be four years his senior.
“Obviously the adjustment to (major) junior hockey will be another step up for him,” said Scott May, his coach last year with the Delta Hockey Academy.
“It is tough to do that as a 16-year-old, but I think he is capable of doing it.”
Last season with Delta, Zazula was nearly a point-per-game player with six goals and 26 points in 29 games. He also racked up 103 penalty minutes.
At five-foot-eight, Zazula isn’t a towering presence on the blue-line, but May said the defenceman is physically strong and tough.
“And he plays mean — those are good attributes if you want to make the jump to the WHL,” the coach added.
And Zazula offers a lot of the qualities teams at all levels are looking for in defencemen, according to May.
“Luke is dynamic. He likes to carry the puck, jump up into the play and get involved,” he said. “He is physical and plays with emotion.
“Luke’s skill set is above average and that is obviously why he doing to have an opportunity to crack the lineup in Kamloops.”
Zazula leaves for Kamloops next weekend (Aug. 21) in preparation for the start of training camp on Aug. 25.
The Blazers website has nine defenceman listed on their roster and Zazula is the lone 16-year-old of the bunch.
He is also one of four rookie blue-liners.
Being at the Hockey Canada camp taught him that he can’t alter his game or style too much.
“Just keep playing the same game and don’t change too much because if you do … it mixes you up. Just keep playing the game you do and stay focused.”
He has spent his summer training locally with Impact Hockey Development, focusing on his cardio, building up his strength, eating healthier and trying to put — and keep on — more weight.
Giants pair also attend Calgary camp
Two members of the Vancouver Giants also attended the U17 development camp with Hockey Canada.
Tyler Popowich, the third overall pick in the 2015 bantam draft, had 15 goals and 42 points as a forward with the Okanagan Hockey Academy Prep program.
And Kaleb Bulych had 10 points in 42 games as a defenceman with the Yorkton Maulers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League last year, He was a second round pick of the Giants in 2015.