Ozar adapting to life in the USHL

Photo Courtesy of Jim Nelson/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Waterloo Black Hawks forward Owen Ozar skates away from Des Moines Buccaneers blueliner Scout Truman during an United States Hockey League contest earlier this season.

As he was preparing for the 2020-21 hockey season, Prince Albert’s Owen Ozar was all set to return to the Trail Smoke Eaters for his third season in the British Columbia Hockey League.

However, due to the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, the 20-year-old from Prince Albert elected to play south of the border for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League.

“It was a really tough decision for me as I loved Trail and it was definitely my plan to go back there,” said Ozar, who was going to serve as the Smoke Eaters captain this year. “With the pandemic, we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to play in Trail and I wanted to make sure that I was going to play hockey this year.

“Waterloo was my best option, especially as I look to develop my game before heading to (the NCAA’s) Denver (Pioneers) next season.”

The USHL wasn’t on Ozar’s radar until May of last year when the Black Hawks picked him in the sixth round of the USHL Entry Draft after he put up 105 points in 112 regular season and playoff games for the Smoke Eaters.

“Shortly after I got picked by Waterloo, I talked to a buddy of mine who I skate with in Saskatoon (Fargo Force forward Casey McDonald) about what the USHL was like,” Ozar said. “He told me that it was a really good league and fun to play in, which is all the info that I had before I started talking to more of the teams that are in the league.

“It’s been a really fun experience so far and I don’t think a lot of people in Canada know just how good the USHL is. The overall depth of the teams down here is really good and there are no easy nights.”

Like everyone else in the sporting world at the moment, Ozar and the rest of the Black Hawks have had to work through the challenges that come with trying to play hockey in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a couple of guys test positive at the start of the year and we went into quarantine for a couple of weeks, but thankfully we’ve had no problems since then,” Ozar said.

“Masks have been mandatory for everyone on the team since we came to Waterloo and while we do have fans at our games again, it’s nowhere near a full building like it normally is for Black Hawks games.”

Heading into Friday’s road game against the Dubuque Fighting Saints, the Black Hawks are in eighth place in the USHL’s Western Conference with an 8-15-1 record.

“We’ve kind of struggled a little bit at the start of the season, especially with the amount of injuries that we had, but we have a veteran coach here (P.K. O’Handley) and listening to him day in and day out is really helping us as we look to turn things around,” Ozar said.

“Something that we talked about in practice on Tuesday was that 11 of our losses have come in one-goal games. Our defence and our goaltending aren’t giving up that many goals, but we need to score more. That’s something that our entire forward group is working on here and I think that will come if we work on the details.”

On the individual side of things, Ozar has 13 points (seven goals and six assists) in 24 games, which puts him a tie for third place in team scoring.

“I like the way that I’m playing so far,” Ozar said. “The point production isn’t quite where I want it to be yet, but I feel like I can get there by doing the little things right.

“Just being here in Waterloo has really helped me as I get ready for college next year. If you look at the stats, around 70 per cent of the guys in the NCAA played in the USHL and it is a major development league towards getting to the pros. The way they operate here in Waterloo is just like a pro team and everyone here wants you to become a pro hockey player.”