The Story of a D3 athlete climbing the ladder to becoming a top 10 ACHA goalie

Nikita Kozak, senior in mechanical engineering, plays for the Cyclone hockey team. 

Nash Vanbibber

Hockey is not just a game; it is a lifestyle. Hockey is heavily built upon hard work, grit, intelligence and physicality. Both Jason Fairman and Nikita Kozak have a connection to hockey and live their lives based on the sport that they adore.

Nikita Kozak is a senior at Iowa State University and currently plays for the Cyclone hockey team. Kozak holds an important position on the ice. He is the goaltender for the team, which is a large responsibility, but it is one that he loves.

Kozak was born in Ukraine but was brought up in Des Moines, Iowa. Kozak is majoring in mechanical engineering and has a minor in mathematics. He hopes to continue his education by going to graduate school and obtaining his doctoral degree. He is interested in automobiles and aspires to one day make flying cars.

Kozak fell in love with skating, and later hockey, at the age of nine after being gifted a pair of ice skates. Kozak’s parents grew up playing hockey as well.

Kozak followed the path of his parents and pursued hockey throughout his adolescent life and into his collegiate career. Kozak began playing hockey at the Division Three level, and his commitment to the sport led him to Division One. Kozak said he enjoys how relentless the sport can be and how he has to adapt in the act.

“If you want a long-term goal, you can’t quit on it early; you have to work for it,” Kozak said. “I enjoy the fast pace, the toughness you have to have, the bonds inside the locker room that are formed and how the sport is dependent on teamwork.”

The position of goalie comes with baggage, including being in control of games. Kozak said he enjoys these moments and does not shy away from being criticized. Kozak said he yearns for controlling the tempo and breaking the hearts of his opponents as he protects his territory in the Ames ice rink.

Kozak has always wanted to be different, even as a child. He wanted to play a sport in which none of his friends were playing at the time. There are only two goalies on the ice; this was the main motivating factor as to why Kozak chose this position.

“I always enjoyed watching hockey as a kid and watching goalies save their seasons and also being in control of heartbreaks,” Kozak said.

Kozak is currently No. 9 of the top 10 goalie leaders in all of American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). Individual performance is important to Kozak, but the team is more important.

“I don’t think about being a top goaltender; I am more worried about making it to nationals than being a great goaltender,” Kozak said.

The Cyclone hockey team has been in contention for the past three years. Last year, the Cyclones were one win away from being champions; they were ultimately defeated by the Minot State Beavers 3-1.

“The goal this year has been the same for me the past three years: to win a national championship,” Kozak said.

Kozak’s coach for four years, Jason Fairman, has been with the team for seven years. He has led the Cyclones to the playoffs for three years.

Fairman said it has been great to watch Nikita Kozak grow. He has enjoyed coaching Kozak the past four years and wants his younger players to model themselves after Kozak. Fairman said that Kozak is part of the reason why the culture for Cyclone hockey has been prominent in the National Championships, as well as having success outside of the ice. The Culture outside of the ice is exceeding in academics, which Kozak does with his 3.94 GPA.

“He is a hard worker, one of a number of the guys on our team; he does it in the classroom and on the ice,” Fairman said. “In this day and age, I don’t think people realize that hard work does pay off; nice guys do finish first, not last.”

Fairman’s thoughts on Kozak being in the top 10 for goalie leaders in all of ACHA leadings is a product of many things. 

After Kozak graduates in the spring, there will be a void that will need to be filled on the team, not just in front of the net.

“He has been great for us all year,” Fairman said. “Being in the top 10 for goalie leaders is a nice reward for him.”