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Former NPSS Grizzly now a Utah Grizzly

Austin Crossley finds new home 2300 kilometres away
Fort St. John's Austin Crossley (left) as a Prince George Cougar in a 2019 pre-season game against the Vancouver Giants.

Austin Crossley has found a new home and, even better, a place to play pro hockey.

The Fort St. John native is in his first full season with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL, and making some inroads in the process.

“I love here it in Utah. It's a beautiful place to live. As far as the hockey, it's been pretty eye-opening. It's not at all what I thought it was,” admits Crossley.

Pandemic aside, it's been a bit of a challenge for the 22-year-old defenceman to get established or find an identity after juniors – Crossley playing this last three years in the Western Hockey League with the Prince George Cougars.

“When I was 19 or 20, I was approached by a couple of teams to come play for them, Toledo and Norfolk, but I thought it was going to be more of a tougher, grimier league (think the Hanson brothers) and I thought that was going to be my role, solely.”

While he will throw down the gloves, if needed, Crossley doesn't consider himself an enforcer.

“I'm a hard-nosed D-man. I'll stick up for teammates, but not really the guy who goes out every night and is expected to fight. It's not what you want to be known as a hockey player, especially nowadays.”

With the Grizzlies, though, Crossley appears to have found balance both on and off the ice.

“I get a regular shift five-on-five. Not an offensive threat, more like a stay-at-home D-man. I love the lifestyle. You go to work for four, five hours a day and the rest of the day is yours, hang out with your buddies," he says.

“Been golfing since January,” a fact he seems to enjoy telling his parents and friends back home about on an almost regular basis.

But, it's far cry from 2020 when he was actually playing in Europe, of all places.

“I played a little bit in Sweden. I only played, like, two games there and I came home. It wasn't for me.”

Now known strictly as the ECHL with teams in Canada and across the United States, the league was started as the East Coast Hockey League.

In hockey circles, it's considered a mid-level pro league and a level below the AHL (American Hockey League), which has the Vancouver Canucks' farm team in Abbotsford.

With that in mind, does the North Peace Secondary Grizzlies grad have any ambitions to move up?

“It's definitely something that I want to work towards. I don't think it's going to be in the cards for next year but, maybe, in a few years.”

Any talk, though, of his future plans will have wait.

The Utah Grizzlies advanced to the second round of the ECHL playoffs last week after clinching the regular-season Mountain Division title, and there's a very good chance they could go all the way.

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