Meet “z”: The Captain of the Brotherhood
Not Your Average Joe
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 00:10
The three-year old Washington, Mich. native would look on from the stands as his brother and cousin strapped on their roller skates and head out onto the rink. He wanted badly to play with them, and eventually convinced his parents to let him play an age group up. From the moment he tied the laces, Austin Czarnik was in love with hockey.
It is 18 years later and the guy affectionately known as “Z” is still engaged in an love affair with hockey, though now it’s at the collegiate level. The 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior is captain of the No. 2 team in the NCAA, and Czarnik said that though it’s a lot of work, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s hard to do,” Czarnik said. “It’s a responsibility and you’ve got to take it day by day. Everybody looks up to me and everybody has their own role on the team. I just have to make sure I’m making the right plays for everybody and I’m making the right decisions for the betterment of the team. So far it’s been going well.”
It’s gone well in the past for Z, too. In just two years, he’s compiled 77 points and an astounding +44 rating while on the ice. He’s been one of Miami’s best six guys his entire collegiate career, and was named Central Collegiate Hockey Player of the Year last year. He was also nominated as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award at the end of the 2012-13 season (for those of you who have yet to receive your Bachelor’s in Hockey Studies, think Heisman on ice).
On the ice, Czarnik possesses some of the sauciest paws in the country. The junior is explosive on offense, back checks like a maniac and isn’t afraid to square off against some of his bigger competition in physical battles. Like many of his undersized teammates (by college hockey standards), he plays a lot bigger than his size would suggest, though the real strength of his game lies in his finesse and vision in the neutral and offensive zones. Like his childhood idol, Pavel Bure, Czarnik uses his speed to cut up-ice, creating odd-man rushes that have led to many of his 53 career assists. He disrupts passing lanes as well, and is valued as a penalty killer – his four shorthanded goals were tops in the NCAA last year.
When he’s not wearing No. 7, Czarnik is what you’d expect: an average college student. So many athletes can seem arrogant in this day and age, but Czarnik doesn’t seem to be interested in that type of hype. A five-minute conversation with him shows he’s just your regular guy who enjoys friends, video games and cheering for his Detroit-based professional teams.
“Who is Austin Czarnik off the ice...” Czarnik said, and thought for only a moment. “I’m always smiling, always enjoying being around the guys. We’re always joking around. We always chirp with each other and we try to be fun to be around.”
Heading into a new season with a few new faces in a new conference might seem formidable, but Z plans to take it one step at a time. If there is one thing he and his teammates have learned from head coach Enrico Blasi, it’s to “live in the moment”. Don’t worry about the past or future, but focus on the now. Every time Czarnik takes the ice, that’s what he tries to do.
“I just want to be able to make plays for everybody and make everyone better,” Czarnik said. “I try to be exciting out there and get everyone motivated.”
In a few days, he’ll be back on the ice. He’ll be representing the Brotherhood for the third straight year, this time with a ‘C’ over his heart. And just like that three-year old boy in Mich. felt a rush of excitement the first time he laced up the skates almost two decades ago, Austin Czarnik will get that same feeling as he takes the ice this weekend.