By John DeCoste
When Chris Owens arrived at Acadia in the fall of 2010, he ”thought I’d be fighting for a spot” on the hockey Axemen roster. By the end of his first season, he had earned a berth on both the AUS and CIS all-rookie teams.
Today, Owens, 24, is a highly respected veteran member of the Axemen, twice an all-Canadian and one of 22 AUHC players chosen to represent Canada at the Winter Universiade starting next week in Italy. He’ll be joined there by teammates Liam Heelis and Mike Cazzola.
Unlike many of his teammates who played Major-Junior hockey, Owens, a native of St. John’s, NL, played four years of Junior A with the Miramichi Timberwolves. In his final season there, he led the Maritime Junior League in scoring as a defenseman.
“I came (to Acadia) on a recruiting trip my last year in junior,” Owens said. “I found Wolfville a great community with lots of friendly people. I felt right at home here from the start.”
Despite growing up in St. John’s, Owens had gotten used to a smaller community during his years in Miramichi.
“I liked the idea of a smaller school, but at the same time, I liked the idea of playing on the big ice surface.”
Despite the fact that his intention all along was to attend university, he found the AUHC “a big step” from Junior A.
“I felt I was ready for it. The first half of my first year was an adjustment, but I found I was comfortable playing at this level,” he said.
Head coach Darren Burns showed confidence in Owens from the start, playing him on the power play and killing penalties. That has resulted in a lot of ice time, and a lot of opportunity to put points on the board. In his Acadia career, Owens has 27 goals, 57 assists and 84 points in 92 games.
Owens sees himself as a ‘two-way’ defenseman.
“I’ve always felt I have a bit of an offensive upside, but I feel I’m good in my own end, too,” he explained. His two AUHC all-star selections and two CIS all-Canadian selections are a testament to his all-round play.
As a fourth-year veteran, Owens sees his role as “being a team leader, playing a lot of minutes, providing a boost when needed and being a mentor to the younger guys.”
Entering play Nov. 29, Acadia had won 10 of its first 11 regular season games.
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“I’m really happy with the season so far,” Owens said. “I can’t complain, that’s for sure.”
As for the key to the team’s solid start, he said, “Everybody comes to play and does their job. We won our first regular season game, then lost our second. Since then, we’ve stuck to our game plan pretty well.”
The Axemen have gotten great goaltending from fellow Newfoundland native Evan Mosher and rookie Brandon Glover, and “great production from our top line” of Cazzola, Brett Thompson and Heelis.
“It’s been a real team effort,” Owens said. The defensc has been solid, and “All four lines have been great, both ways. Everybody comes to play, every night.”
The AUHC, he added, “Is a tough conference to win, and a long road to get there. Lately, we’ve been taking it one game at a time.”
Owens says his main focus right now is the final three games Acadia has left before Christmas break. After that, he’ll switch focus on going to Italy to play.
“I’ve never played overseas, and I can’t wait. It’s tough to think that far ahead - there are three important games to play first - but after that, it’s all that’ll be on my mind.”
Being chosen to Team Canada, he added, “Is a great feeling,” although it was “kind of nerve-wracking waiting for the call.”
Owens is scheduled to graduate in May with his business administration degree.
“As of right now, I’m not planning to be back next year, but that could change,” he said.
After graduation, his dream is to play professionally somewhere.
“I’d like to take it as far as I can, maybe start in the East Coast League, then move up or maybe play overseas, whatever comes my way.”
Owens says he has “zero regrets about coming here. It’s been awesome from day one. I’ve made a lot of friends, and met a lot of people in the local community I’ve gotten close with. I lived here this past summer, too, and got to meet even more people.”
He has been back to Newfoundland, where he still has family, three times in the past year, mostly for hockey schools and only for a short time.
“I plan to spend a week there visiting my family when I get back from Italy,” he added.