WEATHER ALERT

Ice all-in on Ostapchuk Dominant squad’s quest for Memorial Cup strengthened by addition of power forward

The Winnipeg Ice clearly believe the time is now.

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The Winnipeg Ice clearly believe the time is now.

The junior team pushed its chips to the middle Sunday evening, acquiring forward Zack Ostapchuk from the Vancouver Giants for a king’s ransom that included two players, two prospects, three first-round picks (2024-26) in the annual Western Hockey League Prospects Draft, and a fifth-round selection in 2024.

Ostapchuk, a 2021 second-round NHL pick of the Ottawa Senators, has won back-to-back gold medals with Team Canada at the world junior championship.

He joins a loaded Ice squad currently looking down at the rest of the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Winnipeg also owns the best winning percentage in the league (29-5-0, 58 points).

Ron Ward / THE CANADIAN PRESS files

Zack Ostapchuk, the newest member of the Winnipeg Ice, is coming off his second consecutive World Junior Hockey Championship with team Canada.

The deal had been in the works for weeks but didn’t heat up until just days before Tuesday’s trade deadline, according to Jake Heisinger, Winnipeg’s assistant general manager and vice-president of hockey operations.

“He was a player we’ve had a lot of interest in, a guy that we felt could definitely be a difference-maker on our team,” Heisinger said. “We like the makeup of our team. I think a number of our players that have played big roles on our team had a real good experience last year — making it to the (2021-22) conference final and obviously falling short of our goal.”

Winnipeg fell 4-1 in a best-of-seven series to the Edmonton Oil Kings last season. The Oil Kings went on to defeat the Seattle Thunderbirds for the WHL championship.

“There’s a lot of good teams in the league and a lot of teams that will have an opportunity to go to the final and, hopefully, reach the ultimate goal. That’s obviously our goal, as well. So, (there is a) long road ahead of us but that should be exciting,” added Heisinger.

“He (Ostapchuk) was a player we’ve had a lot of interest in, a guy that we felt could definitely be a difference-maker on our team.”–Jake Heisinger

Ostapchuk, 19, a product of St. Albert, Alta., has captained the Giants for the past two campaigns and supplied 10 goals and 19 assists in 21 games this year. His leadership is backed by the experience he brings over parts of five seasons in the WHL.

The imposing 6-3, 205-pounder said he’s thrilled to be joining the Ice.

“Obviously, I’ve been in Vancouver for a long time. But Winnipeg was the one spot I was OK with going — that I really wanted to go. So, in that sense, I was very happy that it went like that,” Ostapchuk said, by phone from Toronto. “I only wanted to go somewhere where I’d have a legit shot at winning the whole thing and I think Winnipeg is my best opportunity.”

Ostapchuk could be in the lineup Wednesday night when the Ice collide with the Western Conference-leading Seattle Thunderbirds at Wayne Fleming Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.

He’s the third addition to an already talent-laden squad ahead of the deadline. On New Year’s Eve , the Ice picked up Ottawa prospect Carson Latimer, a 6-1 191-pound winger with high-end speed, from the Prince Albert Raiders, and then swung a deal with the Regina Pats to acquire rugged Easton Armstrong, a 6-3 204-pound winger, this past Saturday.

IIHF

Zack Ostapchuk, 19, has captained the Giants for the past two campaigns and supplied 10 goals and 19 assists in 21 games this year.

Ostapchuk already has tight bonds with a couple of his new teammates — Matthew Savoie in particular. They grew up playing together in St. Albert.

“For me, it also comes down to I get to work with friends. I have a lot of buddies on Winnipeg here, some of my best buddies in the whole world,” he said. “So, that’s another opportunity that I think you don’t get very often — or once in a lifetime — is that you get to win with your best friends in junior hockey.

“I think I’ll be able to add some skill, but also some grit and some toughness to the lineup. I think I can play in any situation. I could be a big (penalty kill) guy on this team and help out on the power play a little bit. I just think my versatility, where I can play on any line… will add some fuel to the fire for this group.”

“I think I’ll be able to add some skill, but also some grit and some toughness to the lineup. I think I can play in any situation. I could be a big (penalty kill) guy on this team and help out on the power play a little bit.”–Zack Ostapchuk

That’s precisely what James Patrick has envisioned for him, and the Ice head coach has no reservations about leaning on the skilled forward immediately.

“I know he’s gonna play every situation,” Patrick said. “He’ll get here and it’ll take (some time) to get a little more familiar with our system and what we do, but he’s going to be in those situations right off the bat.

“It was pretty surprising, interesting, exciting news when I heard a couple of days ago. We’re getting a top-end player, a top-end two-way player and an elite competitor — a captain, a leader, a guy who plays big and plays physical and a bit mean. All those things are traits that we could use.”

jfreysam@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam
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Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.

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