Tim Bozon takes part in the Canadiens rookie camp at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Friday, September 6, 2013.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette
MONTREAL — Tim Bozon figures he’s worked harder this summer than any other.
“I had to. I had to do two times more than normal,” the 20-year-old Canadiens prospect said this week from his family’s home near Cannes in the south of France.
This hasn’t been a regular spring or summer for Bozon, whose season with the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice ended abruptly on March 1.
An ambulance took Bozon to a hospital in Saskatoon, where he was diagnosed with meningitis and placed in a medically induced coma. Critically ill, Bozon pulled through and was finally discharged four weeks later.
When he returned to France last spring, Bozon spent three weeks at a rehab centre, relearning things and also working on his speech because he had difficulty pronouncing words properly.
He has also trained on the ice with his father, Philippe, a former pro hockey player. Just over two weeks ago, Bozon played his first hockey game since falling ill.
“I didn’t see the time go by with all that I did every day,” Bozon said of the summer that has flown by.
“I live near the beach and I didn’t go once. So it’s a lot of sacrifices like that. But that’s what had to be done if I wanted to continue to hope and live my dream.”
Bozon, who was selected by Montreal in the third round (64th overall) of the 2012 National Hockey League entry draft, received an invitation this week to the Canadiens’ rookie camp next month and is confident he’ll be there.
He said he feels 100 per cent. And from a high-level sports perspective Bozon said he believes he’s close to that target. “But I still have a bit of time to train.”
The nightmare for Bozon and his family began after his team played the Saskatoon Blades on Feb. 28. He had a nose bleed during warm-up, which was unusual, but said he played a good game and scored a goal.
He began feeling tired and weak after the game and started having a migraine-like headache back at the team’s hotel. Early the next morning the team’s athletic therapist, Cory Cameron, called for an ambulance.
“He’s the guy that definitely saved my life,” Bozon said. “There’s also the doctors. But he’s the guy that did the right thing at the right moment.”
Bozon doesn’t remember much from his hospital stay. The rehab at the centre in France included working on speech and memory. At the start, Bozon said, he might ask his parents or friends the same question four or five times during the day.
He worked with a specialist to address the balance problems he initially had and also followed a program that Pierre Allard, the Canadiens’ strength and conditioning coach, made for him.
Doctors have always been optimistic he could return to hockey, but they didn’t put a timeline on it, Bozon said. He came to Montreal last spring to see the Canadiens doctors before returning to France. During the stopover, Bozon called former NHL defenceman Joël Bouchard, who had meningitis in 2000 when he played for the Dallas Stars and returned to hockey the following season. The two spoke for about 30 minutes. Bouchard, the general manager and head coach of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has been a source of inspiration for Bozon.
“He won the battle and then he played in the NHL after that. So he’s the perfect example for me,” Bozon said.
On July 31, with the green light from the Canadiens’ doctors, Bozon played for France’s national under-23 team at a tournament in the Czech Republic. The first game was more about adjusting, Bozon said.
“Then the rest of the tournament, it went well. I started to find my bearings,” he said.
Bozon was expecting to play maybe one or two games, but ended up playing all six.
“I felt good,” he said. “I recovered well between the games and so we made the decision that in the end I was able to play all the games and it’s a good sign.”
When his son was moved out of the intensive-care unit at the hospital, he started to work with physiotherapists and progressed quickly, said Philippe Bozon, who played 144 regular-season games in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues.
His son didn’t accept that the illness happened to him, Philippe said.
“And I think, for him, that it’s even an extra source of motivation to show that he will fight all that, and that it won’t prevent him from living his dream.”
The hardest part of the rehab for Bozon was that he had lost nearly 40 pounds.
“I worked hard for three, four summers to add muscle mass to get bigger,” he said.
“And from one day to the next you look at yourself in the mirror and you’re not the same. And it’s hard to accept for a high-level athlete to see yourself weak, no more strength.”
Every summer, hockey players try to get faster, stronger, bigger and heavier than they were the previous off-season, he said. “And this summer I couldn’t do that. My goal was to get back to my playing weight.”
He’s now 194 pounds, which is almost back up to his listed weight last season of 199 pounds.
Bozon acknowledged there were moments when he wondered if he’d be able to return to hockey “but I try not to think about it.”
“For sure sometimes I said to myself, ‘Am I doing this for nothing?’ But that rarely happened to me. I knew it would end up by paying off. And for sure the reward will be to be at Montreal’s training camp and to see what I’m capable of doing.”
Bozon is proud of himself because he knows he did his best and after, whatever happens, happens, he said.
He scored 33 goals and had 36 assists last season in 63 games in the WHL. He played 13 games with the Kamloops Blazers before being traded to Kootenay.
Bozon’s goal is play for the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs this season.
“I just want to be the player I was — even better — have a big season then and see what happens,” he said.
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