Fort McMurray player picked in first round of 2020 WHL Bantam Draft

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Fort McMurray’s Austin Zemlak is joining the WHL’s Victoria Royals after being picked ninth-overall in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft on Wednesday.

“It’s been a really exciting day,” he said. “I’m honoured to go there. I think it’s going to be a great place to play.”

Growing up in Fort McMurray, the 15-year-old defenseman has been playing hockey for 11 years.

In 2014, Zemlak joined the Junior Brick Alberta team to play at the North American Hockey Classic in Winnipeg.

The following year he was named captain for Team Brick Alberta, playing in the Brick Invitational Tournament for ‘Super Novice’ players. The team made it to the quarterfinals before being stopped by the Saskatchewan Jr. Pats with a 6-2 loss.

He said the coaching he received in Fort McMurray has stuck with him, as well as the May 2016 wildfires. He said the fires were a partial reason why his family moved to Edmonton.

“That did help me grow as a hockey player,” he said, adding the move gave him “more opportunity and more exposure.”

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Zemlak spent the last two seasons playing with the OHA Edmonton Bantam Prep team. In the 2019-2020 season, he was named captain. He put up 36 points in 27 games, scoring eight goals and getting 28 assists.

He was also a finalist for the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s Bantam Prep Division Top Defenceman of the Year.

“Austin is a strong, versatile defenceman who plays the game with skill and purpose. He is a mobile skater who thinks and plays the game at a high pace,” said Cameron Hope, president and general manager of the Victoria Royals, in a statement on the team’s website. “He has a bright future in the WHL, and we are excited to welcome Austin and his family to the Royals.”

With the start of the season still a few months away, Zemlak said he’s “just looking forward to getting back on the ice and playing some hockey.”

He said he’s thankful to his family everyone who has helped and supported him over the years.

lbeamish@postmedia.com