by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
From 2012-to-2017 Austin Kozluk wore – in chronological order - the hockey jerseys of the Halton Hurricanes, Orangeville Flyers, Brampton Bombers, Sherbrooke Phoenix, Cobourg Cougars, Aurora Tigers and Soo Thunderbirds.
But for the last two years though, the 6-foot-3 forward has been able to put his suitcase away while playing for Briercrest Clippers of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC).
"It's kind of sad, but two years is the longest I've stayed in one place…I guess since I was 15," surmises Kozluk, 22. "But it's been pretty good. For sure I miss all the friends I've made along the way and then having to leave. It is amazing how many food people are out there when you think of it."
"It has been pretty eventful and it was a lot of ups-and-downs. I had to work my way up and work for every shift I had."
Each stopover has its own story.
"Sault Ste. Marie (Soo Thunderbirds, Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League) was the most fun I have ever had playing hockey," recalls Kozluk of the 2016-2017 season in which he had a breakout year with 26 goals and 21 assists in 51 games.
"It helped me grow as a person and player. The environment he set (assistant coach Jordan Smith) for the player and our practices were so well run. We also served in the community a lot."
Smith would guide Kozluk both on and off the ice.
"I didn't know anybody when I went there and he (Smith, who was a 2004 NHL Entry Draft second round pick of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks) sat me down and saw where I was coming from. He knew what kind of person I was and then he set me up with Briercrest. He just didn't ship players off to wherever. "
An all-around athlete in high school, playing basketball and volleyball while also lacing up the sneakers for cross-country running, Kozluk continues to find time to hit the trails.
"I still run three times a week," said Kozluk, who at the 2010 Ontario high school provincials clocked a 21:25 for the Junior Boys 6 kilometre distance for Orangeville District Secondary. "It gives me alone time to talk to myself. It is a mental challenge. You get to block the whole world out."
The good folks of Caronport, Saskatchewan (population 994) and home of Briercrest College and Seminary are used to seeing Kozluk outdoors running, no matter the weather.
"I wear the full Rocky attire. Big baggy sweaters, toque, the whole nine yards."
A "huge fitness junkie," Kozluk says, "I work out twice, sometimes three times a day. It is something I picked up since high school."
In his rookie season at Briercrest, he appeared in 24 games with 3 goals and 5 assists recorded.
A season in which he fractured his right elbow in a game against the SAIT Trojans.
"It was kind of hard at first as I was trying to adjust to the league and now I couldn't be out there and playing."
Of his selection of the ACAC and Briercrest?
"When I first came out, I looked at the league and saw the quality of players and I saw the school and how small it was and I liked that. The assistant coach at the time (Josh Dufresne) was also a big influence He is a Christian and things he said to me were comforting and it felt right."
Feeling right and playing great, Kozluk currently leads Briercrest in scoring with a point per game average with 7 goals and 7 assists in 14 starts.