The Kootenay Ice will face the visiting Portland Winterhawks and Moose Jaw Warriors this weekend with a couple new faces on the roster.
Tim Bozon and Landon Cross have arrived from Kamloops following a blockbuster trade on Tuesday with the Blazers, and will get a chance to perform in a different uniform.
A few days earlier, Rinat Valiev, Kootenay’s first-round CHL import selection, flew into Alberta and managed to get into some games against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Cross and Valiev will both complement the blue line, while Bozon will add some scoring firepower up front.
Both Cross and Bozon are 19-year-old players that will also add some veteran experience to the roster. Both were a part of the Blazers squad last year that fell to the Winterhawks in the Western Conference final, while Sam Reinhart and Jagger Dirk represent the holdovers from Kootenay’s 2011 WHL championship team.
“I’m happy to play here, especially with Sam Reinhart and from what I’ve heard, we want to win this year, so it’ll be good,” said Bozon.
The line of Bozon, Smith and Lipon was one of the deadliest in the WHL last season, as all three were in the league’s top-11 point producers. In 69 games last year, Bozon tallied 36 goals and collected 55 assists for 91 points.
It’s been a different story this year, with only three goal and four assists in 13 games. Meanwhile, Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau are in the league’s top-10 scoring race.
“…We’re going to find chemistry, for sure,” said Bozon. “I like that a lot. I like players who move the puck well and produce offence and make plays. That’s what I did for two years in Kamloops with Colin Smith and JC Lipon, and I’m looking forward to doing it here.”
Raised in France and Switzerland, Bozon speaks four languages, with a soft French accent. His father, Phillipe, is a former NHLer who played with the St. Louis Blues.
Bozon developed as a player in Swiss leagues, but he really made his mark in the WHL when the Blazers picked him up in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, tallying 71 points in his first year in the WHL. He lost out to Kootenay Ice captain Sam Reinhart for rookie of the year honours in 2012.
He was selected 64th overall in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft by the Montreal Canadiens and signed to an entry-level contract last May.
So far, he’s cherished his time in the Western Hockey League.
“It’s a league, that when I was 16, I really wanted to play here, and I want to have fun and win something,” Bozon said.
New defenceman Landon Cross is excited to be in new surroundings, even though he already has a connection to the team through his dad, who is an area scout with the Ice.
“Definitely some excitement for a fresh start, coming in here and meeting a new group of guys,” said Cross. “I heard that Kootenay was looking for D, so I wanted to go anywhere where someone wanted me, so it’s exciting to be here.”
Cross and Bozon arrived on Wednesday and have had two practices before Friday’s matchup with the Winterhawks.
“I haven’t been here very long, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a close group in here and guys are excited to come to the rink everyday and work hard when they get there,” said Cross, on his first impressions.
Ice defenceman Tanner Faith is still out of the lineup indefinitely with an upper body injury, but Cross will have to compete with five other rearguards for ice time.
“I like to think my game is just a simple game, just get the puck, find the open guy, keep things simple,” Cross said. “I’m not going to try to be anyone I’m not, that’s for sure. I think I’m going to come in here and play my game and see where it takes me.”
Valiev has two WHL games under his belt since flying into Calgary last Friday and making it up to Edmonton in time to suit up against the Oil Kings, where he posted an assist in his first career WHL game.
He was staying in Moscow over in Russia while his Visa issues were sorted out as the strike by the Canadian foreign service workers caused the delay.
Valiev played in the USHL last year, and attended the NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City with the Dallas Stars in September.
Scouting the opposition
The Ice face the Winterhawks (9-3-0-1) on Friday in their only meeting of the year. However, Bozon saw the reigning WHL champions already this year in a 7-4 loss in Portland earlier in October with the Blazers.
Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand are currently the second and third leader, respectively, in the WHL’s scoring race.
Also, there will be a puck toss fundraiser for the 2015 Friendship hockey team, which is raising money to go to a tournament in Australia.
On Saturday, the Ice will take on the Moose Jaw Warriors (5-7-1-2), which took a hit on Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs announced their intention to keep D Morgan Rielly in the NHL. In the last eight games, the Warriors have one win, but three of those were lost in overtime and a pair of shootouts.