In the last five years, hockey has led Fort St. John's Austin Crossley to a lot of different places and experiences. Now, it will take him across the world.
Crossley recently signed a two-year pro contract with Sweden's Kalix HC, and he is set to fly overseas at the end of July.
Kalix is a small city in Northern Sweden, near the border with Finland. The hockey team plays in Division 1 — Sweden's third-tier professional hockey league. Crossley doesn't know much about the town or the team, but he can't wait to go over there and have a new experience.
"I can't wait. Not only am I going to play in a different country, but I'm getting to play a whole different style of hockey, and on the Olympic-sized ice," Crossley said. "It will be different for me but I'm willing to get used to it and to experience the culture, and I'm excited to see how things are run over there."
Crossley began his junior career playing Junior B hockey as a 16-year-old with the Kamloops Storm in the 2015-16 season. After advancing to Junior A by the end of that season, he found himself playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL by the end of the following year. He spent parts of two seasons with the Raiders before finishing his WHL-career with the Prince George Cougars.
Crossley's best year for the Cougars was the 2018-19 season, where he had nine points and 146 penalty minutes in 66 games. It's no secret he's not known for putting the puck in the net, but his physical style of play and defensive effort is why he's been such a coveted player.
After being released by the Cougars at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, he finished his junior career with the Fargo Force of the USHL, playing 39 games with eight points and 155 penalty minutes.
"I enjoyed playing in Fargo, it's a whole different style of hockey over there. The USHL is more skill-based and not as rough, and its more geared towards preparing guys for college, whereas the WHIL is professionally-oriented," Crossley said.
Crossley enjoyed the years with Prince George and the opportunity to play close to home.
"Playing in Prince George was unreal. My parents could come watch regularly, and it was special to play for a Northern team," he said.
Crossley's goal was to always keep playing hockey. He considered going to school, but wanted to give pro-hockey a shot and is happy about where he's landed. His agent is originally from Sweden and has connections to Kalix HC, and the offer came quickly.
"I thought about it a few days and pulled the trigger. I thought why not," Crossley said.
He's expecting the same kind of role in Kalix as he's had his whole career. For now, he's working on improving his cardio when he's not working, and will start taking Swedish-language lessons soon. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has the future of a lot of sports leagues up in the air, Crossley has landed at a team in the one country where things haven't been shut down and where the 2020-21 hockey season is expected to go ahead as planned.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at email@example.com.