Parks Owensby’s Crazy Hockey Journey Leads to New Home in San Diego

“Pretty much every significant relationship I’ve ever had, I’ve seen collapse under the weight of hockey. I’ve lost friends, missed out on experiences. You’ve gotta be tough.”

Many would write off Parks Owensby. At first glance, many could see the junior economics student as a traditional and ordinary San Diego resident or typical frat guy.

But, that could not be further from the truth. The 25 year-old goalie is currently living out of a hotel as he prepares to take the crease Friday night in San Diego State Hockey’s season opener. Luckily, over a decade of turmoil and pressure has prepared the goalie for his unique and stressful situation.

Currently, he’s over 2,000 miles away from where his love for hockey began. In Atlanta, Georgia, he was always drawn to the sport over more traditional options like baseball, basketball, or football.

“I just kinda fell into it. Which is weird being in Atlanta… As soon as I started playing I was attracted to the position (goaltending). I guess you get to play the whole game, which sounded like a good deal,” said Owensby. 

“As I’ve gotten older I realize it’s the challenge of it that I like the most. That’s what draws me to the position is how complex it is; how technical it is.”

His love for the game would be a constant, and a necessity for his 2014-15 season of junior hockey. The youngster traveled to teams in Maine, Illinois, and Vancouver in hopes of finding a full-time spot, but he never did.

In 2015-16, he returned home to play for the Atlanta Capitals in the NA3HL, the third tier of US junior hockey. Owensby could not praise the highs of junior hockey enough, citing the travel and constant ice-time as far outdoing a traditional schooling experience.

“You learn to interact with people, and learn to make new friends every year and be part of a team… it was a good experience. It hasn’t always been fun, but it’s served me in life.”

Unfortunately, his next two seasons would be missed due to his dealing with a significant hip injury. This saw him lose eligibility for junior hockey, and forced him to look elsewhere to continue his hockey career

“I started training really hard and was blasting emails everywhere asking, ‘who needs a goalie?!’ I was fortunate enough that Robert Morris was in a position where they needed a guy.

“At the time, that was one of the premiere programs.” Based out of Chicago Illinois, Robert Morris University was a quality program where the goalie saw himself finishing his hockey and academic careers.

But, scandals and abuse allegations scorned the image of Robert Morris University’s hockey program which saw the club lose funding and team members seemingly overnight.

“My sophomore year we played with like 11 players. It was a mess:”

He left Robert Morris for greener pastures, and after a brief trial at the University of Pittsburgh Owensby found himself again without a team to play on heading into the 2021-22 season.

“COVID interrupted everything for everyone,” noted the optimistic Owensby. “It interrupted recruiting and people playing games. I knew there was going to be an opportunity somewhere. I just wasn’t really sure when or where.”

With multiple offers on the table, the goalie elected to sit out for the season. “I wasn’t really willing to just jump at something. I figured that this was going to be my last chance.”

He trained on-ice several times per week, in hopes that next season would have more attractive offers. But, doubts started to set in and the goalie often found himself wondering, “Am I chasing a ghost? Is there really something here, or has it passed me by?”

On the verge of joining a different university, SDSU Hockey presented an offer that Owensby could not refuse. With just one goalie on the roster, 2021-22 backup Charlee Leerow, head coach Phillip Bateman was in dire need of a new starting netminder heading into the team’s first season at ACHA Division 1 level.

However, admitting Owensby to the university proved challenging. As the goaltender recalls, “I officially committed to the program on a Thursday and showed up the following Monday for class.”

“I showed up here with no place to live; don’t have my car… had five changes of clothes and a hockey bag. It’s not the first time I’ve been functionally homeless to play hockey, but this is definitely the nicest place I’ve been functionally homeless to play hockey.”

Owensby turned down ranked ACHA D1 teams in favor of joining the Aztecs. At first glance, that may seem odd. Why would a 25 year-old junior opt to cross the country and play for a program just making the jump to Division 1?

“I wanted the challenge of helping build something. We’re building something here and you don’t get many opportunities in your career to be a cornerstone of something bigger. Usually you’re a brick higher up in the wall, and it’s nice to be part of that wall, but everybody hears about the guys who helped lay the foundation.”

“We get to be one of those guys,” touted Owensby.

SDSU Hockey will start their inaugural Division 1 season on Friday against the University of Colorado Boulder. On making his debut in Scarlet and Black, the goalie claimed, “I’m just excited to meet our fans.”

“Seeing the pictures and videos of seasons past of how crazy and rowdy the Kroc gets, it’s exciting.”

Although, the netminder’s main focus this season is about building the program and hockey’s outreach into Southern California. “Our goal is to open doors for kids behind us, in Southern California so they don’t have to travel 3,000 miles to play hockey…

“like I did,” chuckled Owensby.


SDSU Hockey Created a Make-Shift Fraternity for Students

20-on-20 brawls, thrown water bottles aimed at opposing mascots, trips to LA Kings games, and $1-beers. Perhaps, all those things make you think of one of San Diego State’s fraternities. Or maybe, a spring break trip for college students to remember for the rest of their lives.

However for early SDSU ice hockey players, these were normal, even necessary, actions in order to keep the club team going.

Next season, the program is set to make history by becoming the only Division I hockey program in California. The American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) granted them this status ahead of the 2022-23 season as a compliment to their commitment to growing hockey’s popularity at not only the university’s campus, but the San Diego area in general.

In the late 1990s, the SDSU Hockey program was a club of men who just wanted to continue playing hockey. Few competed in the upper echelon of midget hockey leagues, and none were scouted by a coach or staff member. In fact, the team struggled to even acquire a coach in the early days.

When current alumni Brian “Moose” Muslusky joined the team, found it to be a “hodgepodge group of players” that were just hoping to “pay the bills” and continue playing their favorite sport. At that time, the club was fully funded by the students, and the center’s goal was “paying the bills and getting through the season.”

His first season with the club, 1998, saw the team torch their opponents. The former Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) was often a cake walk for the former Double- and Triple-A skaters—the team lit up opposing teams to the tune of 10-0 on some nights.

As Moose recalls, “That first year, I think we scored — I don’t remember the exact number — like 190 goals in about 16 league games… I think we scored 20 in one game.

“That’s what ended up leading us to the road of joining the ACHA.”

But, the top club league for collegiate hockey has grown since the 90’s as well. Moose said the team “wanted to play better competition… and we had another group of incoming freshmen that played Double-A or higher, so had we played in the PCHA, we would have destroyed everybody. It wouldn’t have been fun.”

That first ACHA season saw the Aztecs bring on a new coach in Greg Freidman and finish around a .500 record. After making a large jump in the quality of competition, the Aztecs were surprisingly competitive. But as Moose said, “that’s what ended up biting us in the ass the next year.”

The playoff format at the time for the ACHA was flawed. With no official website and rankings often solely based on record, teams could be rewarded for playing weaker opponents if it inflated their record. After exceeding expectations in their first season and a superb preseason showing against the University of Southern California in 1999, teams were hesitant to travel far South to face a challenging opponent to lessen the risk of hurting their record.

Now in their second ACHA season, the team had to travel far more than anticipated. The program, primarily funded by the student athletes, had to resort to more cost-friendly operations. As Moose put it, “We were essentially on our own, flipping bills.” They were largely responsible for supplying all the aspects needed to run a hockey team such as equipment, jerseys, payment for ice time, etc..

“We ended up dropping out of the ACHA at one point… we were on our own financially.” Because of that financial struggle, players ended up leaving the team and the quality of the club took a dip.

The struggle even saw the university suspend the club’s operations and put them at risk of fully losing their team. In order to stay financially secure, the team returned to the PCHA to lower travel costs, practiced late in evenings when ice-time was cheaper, and purchased only red jerseys.

Thankfully, the team was able to survive that hardship. When Jeff Shields took over as club president, the organization already had to pay a large outstanding debt to their local rink.

Shields got into hockey later in life, but his maturity and coaching background were exactly what the club needed at that time. He brought the club to a time of financial security, secured a coach, and added a sponsor.

Still in search of more funding,  they needed to entice fans to drive decent distances to attend games. The Aztecs upped their advertising with posters around campus and offered $1-beers for those who made the 30-40 minute drive to home games.

Back in the PCHA, the Aztecs continued their dominance to finish the 1990s. In Shields’ two seasons, SDSU won a PCHA title, he took home a single-season scoring title, and the team built a sturdy foundation from which they could grow to where they are now.

When Shields was at SDSU, he always had a goal of re-joining the ACHA. “That was my push, when I was there, to develop a team enough to get into the ACHA.”

The following season, unfortunately without Shields, SDSU was finally stable enough to be reinstated to the second division of the ACHA. After more than two decades in the second division, the Aztecs will make their jump to the highest level of competition for 2022-23.

While these alumni were certainly the early pioneers that allowed the hockey program to grow into its current state, both Moose and Shields enjoyed their stints in college hockey for the fraternity and community they privileged to join.

Most of these players spent the better part of their college careers together. Moose fondly recalls rooming with his teammates, in addition to spending time over the summers and during travel to away games. As Shields put it: “It would’ve been a far less fun experience being at school had I not played hockey.”

In addition to on-ice successes, there are so many other great memories for these players. With college-aged players, large scrums between teams happened often. One such situation saw Moose get “into it with the Washington Huskies’ mascot.” Tensions flared and eventually the skater “drilled him in the head with a water bottle.”

While the program has moved on from simply trying to remain afloat, the bond of the players will never change. As Moose repeated “at the end of the day, through its ups and downs, it was like our own fraternity. We’re all still friends.”