Ozar to play for Canada West at World Junior A Challenge

Photo Courtesy of Jim Bailey/Trail Times Owen Ozar celebrates after scoring a goal for the Trail Smoke Eaters during the 2019 BCHL playoffs.

Tournament runs from Dec. 7-15 in Dawson Creek, B.C.

Prince Albert’s Owen Ozar has been able to check off two of his goals during the 2019-20 season.

In addition to landing a NCAA commitment with the Denver Pioneers, the 19-year-old forward for the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters forward has also earned a spot on the Canada West roster for the 2019 World Junior A Challenge.

“I knew going into this season that I had an opportunity to play at the tournament, so I was really excited to get the invite to their selection camp,” Ozar said. “I worked hard out in Calgary and I was fortunate enough to be named to the team.

“Everyone wants to play for Canada and it still feels kind of surreal to me that I’ll have that chance. I think it will really start to set in for me once I put that jersey on and take to the ice.”

After an exhibition game on Thursday in Fort St. John, B.C. against Russia, Canada West will begin their tournament slate in Dawson Creek, B.C. on Saturday against the United States.

A few familiar faces will be around Ozar during the event as he’s joined on the roster by Smoke Eaters teammates Powell Connor, Kent Johnson and Philippe Lapointe.

“It definitely helps to have them around as it’s easier to make friends with people during a short tournament like this,” Ozar said.

“We have a really good group here with all of the best players from the AJHL, BCHL and MJHL. Everyone on the roster is skilled and they are all leaders on each of their teams.”

After spending two-and-a-half seasons in the Midget AAA ranks with the Swift Current Legionnaires, Ozar made the jump to Junior A last year.

He had 26 points in 42 games during his rookie campaign and had nine points in 12 playoff games for the Smoke Eaters, who lost in the quarter-final round to the Vernon Vipers in seven games.

“The BCHL is a fast and skilled league,” Ozar said. “There’s a lot of great young talent there and a number of players who are committed to Division I schools in the NCAA, which makes things very competitive.”

Ozar took the lessons that he learned from his first campaign with the Smoke Eaters towards his off-season training, which has allowed him to put up 39 points in 32 games during his sophomore season to sit third in team scoring and in a tie for fourth in the BCHL with Brendan Budy of the Langley Rivermen.

“I wanted to be in the best shape that I possibly could be going into training camp and I was able to skate once a week during the summer to make sure that I was keeping my hands in the game,” Ozar said.

“I’ve found that I have had a lot more time and space this season and I definitely feel faster out there, which all comes from that hard work.”

Ozar was also able to take some pressure off by committing to the Pioneers before the start of the BCHL campaign, as he will be heading to Denver for the 2021-22 season.

“That was huge for me,” Ozar said. “Since I was able to get that done before the start of the season, I was able to relax and focus more on helping our team succeed in Trail.

“Denver is a program that is always contending for national titles and that’s something that I want to win during my four years there. Plus, they are always sending guys to the pros, so that’s something else that really stood out for me.”

Ozar’s main goal at the moment though is to help Canada West come away with a gold medal, which would be their first since 2017 and their fifth overall since the tournament started in 2016.

“It’s all about the details at a short tournament like this as you don’t have a lot of time to work on different systems,” Ozar said.

“The team that wins is going to be the one that is working hard and making the right plays. I think we have the group here to do that.”

Canada West will also be facing the Czech Republic, Canada East and Russia in round-robin play, which concludes next Friday.

The semifinal games will be held on Saturday, Dec. 14, while the medal round will take place the following day.

The bronze and gold medal contests, which will start at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, will air nationally on TSN.