GREG HARDERREGINA LEADER-POST
This is one anniversary Tim Bozon couldn’t forget if he tried.
It will be a year ago on Sunday that the WHL star was admitted to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon with a mysterious illness — mere hours after he scored a goal for the Kootenay Ice in a 4-2 win over the Saskatoon Blades.
Bozon was diagnosed with Neisseria meningitis, an acute inflammation of the membranes around the brain.In layman’s terms, it was serious — life or death serious.
Bozon’s condition deteriorated quickly, forcing doctors to place him in a medically induced coma. Beneath a peaceful exterior, Bozon was trapped in a nightmare — with no guarantee he would wake up, let alone recover sufficiently to live a normal life.
But he did.
Almost a month after being rushed to the emergency room, Bozon walked slowly out of the hospital under his own power, eager to resume a promising hockey career.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” offered Bozon, who leads the Ice into tonight’s clash with the host Regina Pats. “Even one year later I still think about it. Sometimes you think about what life would be like right now if I had lost my legs and my hands or stuff like that. You wonder what my parents would do if I would be handicapped. I try to move on but it’s always in your mind.”
And it will always be part of him.
In fact, the experience has changed Bozon’s perspective on life as well as hockey — adding shades of grey to the black-or-white views commonly associated with wins and losses.
“You appreciate everything more,” said the native of France. “You realize that you’re lucky. I used to complain a lot and maybe not enjoy (life) as much as I do now. I see things different. I see hockey different. I enjoy my life more. I take it day by day.”
Sometime in the future, Bozon can see himself using his experience to benefit others who weren’t as fortunate — “maybe write a book or something.”
For now, however, he’s focused on the next chapter of his own career.
Although Bozon was technically healthy when he left the hospital last March, he was an almost-unrecognizable shell of his former self, having lost over 40 pounds.
He has since regained the weight — plus a little extra — and is carrying 202 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame.
Bozon has also rediscovered the scoring touch which compelled the Montreal Canadiens to select him in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft, recording 28 goals and 54 points in 46 WHL games this season.
“I’m even stronger than I was last year,” he explained. “I don’t think the meningitis affected me long term. That’s a good thing.”
Bozon was hoping his renaissance would lead to a new home with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in Hamilton. However, the club decided in early October that he needed more time, so Bozon was sent back to Kootenay.
“I was not totally back to 100 per cent,” he said. “That’s the reason why Montreal sent me back to junior. I was not physically ready to play and compete against men. My body was not strong enough. Now I’m an even better player than I was before.”
In hindsight, Bozon admits that returning to the WHL was probably for the best.
“I did not totally agree with them at the beginning,” he said. “It was tough for me to accept because, at 20 years old, if you have a contract, you want to play in the AHL. It didn’t happen but I think it was also good for me because I could get my confidence back, get my game back.”
Forever the perfectionist, Bozon isn’t exactly satisfied with his performance this season. That said, not a day goes by that he isn’t grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m a competitor so I think I can do much better,” he added. “But if you look at where I was and where I am now, it’s pretty good. It’s exciting to be playing hockey again. I did everything possible to turn pro but it didn’t happen. I was disappointed but I know it’s going to come next year. I’m really excited about that. I just want to finish the season strong.”