Hockey Humanitarian Award finalist spotlight: Union’s Kosack finds community niche with youth-driven outreach campaign

By Nate Owen

Growing up, Union senior captain Josh Kosack remembers being that kid banging on the glass at hockey games.

A chance encounter two years ago at an away game gave him the chance to return the favor – and then some.

While warming up prior to a game at Dartmouth in February 2019, Kosack exchanged greetings with a young fan sitting along the ice.

“I didn’t really think too much of it; I was talking to him between periods and giving him props. I gave him a puck and I thought that was it,” Kosack said.

But when Patrick Toner’s mother emailed Union president David Harris to mention the impact such a small gesture had on her son, Kosack thought he might be on to something.

“It put into perspective how easy it was to make a difference,” Kosack said. “I just decided to make something out of it. I realized the platform that we have as college athletes. If someone gave me a puck as a kid, I’d be star-stuck. I wanted to give back and put a smile one someone’s face.”

That was the impetus for starting Kozi’s Kids, a group run by Kosack that helps distributes Union hockey tickets to local children and their families. Each player is allotted a certain number of tickets per game, but the Dutchmen’s roster is made up of players from all over the map, meaning that their families can’t always attend every game.

That generosity, along with his other community service work in Schenectady, N.Y., led to Kosack being nominated as one of the three finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

“It was very gratifying to get nominated,” Kosack said. “It shows the bigger picture of the impact that I’ve had with those kids.”

Kosack works with COCOA (Children of Our Community Open to Achievement) House, a non-profit organization founded by a Union student in 1996 that promotes academic success and offers expanded opportunities for at-risk youth in the Schenectady community. Kosack arranged for transportation and gives the children a tour of the locker room before the game. Many of the children have never been to a college hockey game before.

Growing up, Kosack spent his summers working at hockey camps.

“I always had a passion for helping out younger kids,” he said.

But he had never launched a project of this magnitude.

“This wasn’t just something that he just winged together in the summer,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “It was during the year, while doing two full-time jobs with school and hockey.”

In November, Union announced that it was cancelling its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that Kozi’s Kids was put on hold last winter, but that didn’t stop Kosack, who still made an impact even without a season.

“I was bummed four about 10 minutes and then I talked to my dad about it,” he said. “I just kind of realized that it’s not the end of the world. Lots of people have it worse off. I kind of kicked into gear and asked, ‘How am I going to grow from this?’”

It didn’t take him long, as Kosack and co-captain Sean Harrison ran a coat drive in December for the Schenectady City Mission.

“I meant to print off 30 flyers but I printed 300 by accident so I spent two hours hanging them around campus,” Kosack said.

It worked, as the coat drive ended up getting 100 coats in 48 hours, which he called “unreal.”

Kosack also wanted to make sure that he didn’t forget about the kids at COCOA House, even without any games for them to attend.

“Lots of kids loved coming to the games. I wanted to say, ‘Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you guys,’” Kosack said.

He did that by starting a GoFundMe campaign to collect money for Christmas presents for the kids. The campaign raised more than $5,000.

Those actions after his season was cancelled spoke volumes for his Bennett.

“Being told that your season has been cancelled and to still follow up on what you said you were going to do for your community service, to me that speaks loudly about a person’s character,” Bennett said. “Do you follow up on what you said you were going to? And he did.”

In addition to being nominated for the Humanitarian Award, Kosack is a finalist for the ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year award and a valuable leader on the ice for the Dutchmen.

“In the fall, when we were going through whether or not we were going to play or not, he did a tremendous job working with our first-year class and setting the tone,” Bennett said. “It was really impressive.”

Kosack, who withdrew from Union for the last two semesters this season to maintain his athletic eligibility, plans to play his final collegiate season next year and continue with Kozi’s Kids.

With any luck, he might be able to snag a couple of recruits for the Dutchmen.

“A lot of these kids didn’t know what hockey was,” he said. “Now some of them have told me their dream is to play for Union one day.”