It’s no secret Tim Bozon wants to play professional hockey.
After being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the 6-foot-1 winger tore up the Western Hockey League, finishing ninth in league scoring with 36 goals and 91 points as he suited up with the Kamloops Blazers during the 2012-13 season.
That left no question the Habs made good in taking the French national with the 64th pick. Tim Bozon was going to be a sure-fire pro hockey player in short order after the type of season he had in 2012-13.
Fast-forward two years and rather than suiting up for his first season of professional hockey, Bozon finds himself back in Cranbrook preparing to pull Kootenay Ice colours over his head as a 20-year-old over-ager.
“I’m happy to see the boys again, I shared some good moments with them [last season],” Bozon said prior to practice Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously, it’s not the place I want to be right now. I want to play pro hockey but unfortunately something happened to me in March last year so [the] Montreal [Canadiens] think it’s better for me to play in the WHL with Kootenay for now.”
The “something” that happened to Bozon was a well-documented, life-and-death battle with neisseria meningitis that left the promising prospect in a medically-induced coma at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
Bozon made immense steps in his recovery this past summer, culminating with his attendance at training camps with the Canadiens and the team’s AHL affiliate in Hamilton this fall.
“There weren’t many people that thought I would be at training camp, and I was,” Bozon said. “I said, ‘I’m ready to play.’ I didn’t want to just show up [to camp to] say I was there.”
Bozon didn’t just show up to training camp. He suited up in NHL pre-season action Sept. 26 in Quebec City when the Habs edged the Colorado Avalanche 3-2. After being assigned to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, Bozon dressed for a handful of pre-season games with the Canadiens affiliate before getting the news he would spend the 2014-15 campaign in the WHL.
“Everyone told me I played pretty good and I had a really good camp [in Hamilton],” Bozon added.
“I’m here back in junior not because I was not good enough…You can tell in puck battles with bigger guys, professional guys, it’s tougher. I need to regain my strength.”
Back in Cranbrook, Bozon’s focus is on regaining his goal-scoring confidence and rebuilding the strength that not only made him one of the WHL’s most dangerous offensive threats, but also projected him as one of the Montreal Canadiens’ most prized young prospects.
“Our job is to get him to pro hockey,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill Tuesday afternoon. “He’s had a setback, clearly, because of what he has been through.
“He’s worked his butt off to get to where he is right now. The Montreal Canadiens feel he needs more and it’s our job to get him where he needs to go.”
Bozon will get every opportunity to regain that goal-scoring confidence with a Kootenay Ice club starving for offense. The Ice have scored 19 goals through eight games to start the 2014-15 WHL season. In the WHL’s Central Division, only the Lethbridge Hurricanes, with 16 goals, have scored less than the Ice. With 43 tallies, the division-leading Medicine Hat Tigers have more than doubled Kootenay’s offensive output so far this season.
“His tenacity and his will to score is unbelievable,” McGill added. “The kid wants to score every shift. Hopefully that leadership rubs off on other guys.”
Bozon is expected to be in the lineup Friday night when the Ice host the Regina Pats at Western Financial Place. Though nothing is set in stone, he could skate alongside centre Luke Philp and right-winger Jaedon Descheneau. The two veteran forwards represent the team’s top scorers thus far — Descheneau with five goals and eight points, Philp with four goals and seven points.
“Personally, I just play my game and enjoy [it],” Bozon said. “I’m an offensive player…but I just want to be a good player overall, a two-way player.”