Though the Kootenay Ice’s most recent two-game road trip through Saskatchewan wasn’t a productive one in the rink, it was an important journey for Tim Bozon.
During the month of March, Bozon spent 27 days at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon under the care of medical physicians after coming down with neisseria meningitis. This week, the team’s travels took Bozon back to Saskatoon for the first time since leaving the hospital and he was met with a warm reception. For the 20-year-old native of Valbonne, France, his first road trip since rejoining the team was a special one.
“The fact I [was able] to visit the hospital made my day,” Bozon said Thursday prior to practice at Western Financial Place. “I was pretty pumped after that. I was so happy. It was something I was a little bit anxious [about], going back. You don’t really want to go back [to a place where you went through something like that]. But just seeing everyone and [knowing] that finally, everything is back to normal and everybody is happy to see me definitely made my day.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, the Blades welcomed Bozon back to the ice for the ceremonial puck drop. As he stepped onto the red carpet, fans in the building gave the Montreal Canadiens prospect a standing ovation.
“I saw that [support] when I was in the hospital, the support from all around the league,” Bozon said.
“It’s something that I appreciate. When I was in Saskatoon, I made sure I thanked everybody…the fans and the people that helped me at the hospital.”
Bozon didn’t suit up for the Ice’s 5-2 loss to the Blades Wednesday night as he continues to deal with a lower-body injury. With the Calgary Hitmen (6-4-0-1) in town Friday, the former 90-point spitfire is ready to get back to business on the ice as he makes his 2014-15 WHL debut.
“He’s such a dynamic offensive player,” said forward Luke Philp Thursday afternoon. “He can change a game. He has the ability to do that. If he comes back to the lineup, that would be huge to get some offense. We’ve been struggling to score goals lately. Tim could definitely help with that.”
Heading into the weekend, the Ice remain the second-lowest scoring team in the WHL with 24 goals through 12 games. The Lethbridge Hurricanes are the lowest-scoring team in the league, having tallied 21 times in 11 outings. The Ice are nipping at the heels of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who have scored 26 times in 11 contests. At the top end of the totem pole, the Brandon Wheat Kings lead the WHL with 66 goals through 12 games.
Though he has yet to suit up, Bozon has been with the team since arriving back in Cranbrook Oct. 12, leaving him plenty of time to take his team’s tough start to the season.
“It’s all about details. Obviously we can always compete more,” Bozon said. “Everybody has to step up their game. After that, as a team, we’ve got some skill up front and we can score goals. Maybe we were not lucky enough to score some goals [to this point]. When we don’t score goals, we have to push harder, keep it simple for a bit and then goals will come.”
Tonight’s tilt with Calgary represents the third game in four nights for the Ice following back-to-back road losses Tuesday and Wednesday in Prince Albert and Saskatoon, respectively. The Hitmen last played Sunday, Oct. 19 in a 5-1 home-ice victory over the visiting Regina Pats.
“It’s nothing different than any of the other teams are doing around the league right now,” Philp said. “You have phases of the year where you play three [games] in three nights, four in five nights, whatever it may be. You’ve got to be ready for it and prepare for it in the weeks ahead.
“We’ve got to play hard. We’ve got to compete against them otherwise they’re going to walk all over us. They’re a good team, they’ve got a lot of firepower. It comes down to us competing.”
While Bozon boosts the fire power for the home team, the visitors are expected to be fuelled by the return of star forward Jake Virtanen. The 18-year-old Vancouver Canucks prospect led the Hitmen with 45 goals in 2013-14 but has missed the first 11 games of the WHL season following off-season shoulder surgery.
Forward Jon Martin (upper body) and defenceman Rinat Valiev (lower body) will once again be unavailable for the Ice as they continue to deal with injuries.