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At this point, Tim Bozon is still very much a legitimate NHL prospect and just returning to the game after his near fatal bout with Neisseria meningitis amounts to a mere moral victory.
Seven-and-a-half months ago, the 20-year-old Montreal Canadiens prospect nearly died when he fell ill after playing a Western Hockey League game for the Kootenay Ice against the Saskatoon Blades. At the time, he had scored 13 goals in as many games while playing with current Buffalo Sabres rookie Sam Reinhart and was serving notice he would be soon turning pro. Bozon overcame his severe setback to make it to the training camp of the Habs and their AHL affiliate in Hamilton, but the rigours of the pro game might be a bit too much for him. Now the winger is expected to make his WHL season debut with Kootenay on Friday.
From Taylor Rocca (@taylorrocca):
“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.” (Cranbrook Daily Townsman)
As a reminder, here's a brief timeline of Bozon's medical saga:
Feb. 28/March 1 — Bozon takes ill after playing a Friday night game for the Ice in Saskatoon; Kootenay athletic therapist Cory Cameron quickly takes control and has Bozon rushed to Royal University Hospital. He is diagnosed with meningitis and is placed n a medically induced coma the following day.
March 13 — While still in a coma and in critical condition, Bozon begins responding to verbal stimuli.
March 19 — Emerges from an 18-day coma and begins rehabilitation.
March 24 — Marks his 20th birthday in the hospital.
March 28 — Noticeably gaunt and only able to rasp out a few words at a time, Bozon makes his first public appearance since taking ill. Three days later, he performs a ceremonial faceoff before the Ice's win over Calgary that clinched a first-round playoff victory.
April — Spends three weeks at a rehab centre, relearning elemental tasks and working on his speech.
June 5 — Having returned to Europe to rehab, Bozon posts video of his first skate since his release from the hospital.
Aug. 15 — Tells the Montreal Gazette he "had to do two times more than normal" in order to be ready for the season.
Sept. 12 — Begins two-week stint at the Canadiens training camp, appearing in one pre-season game before being assigned to their AHL team, the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Oct. 10 — Gives new meaning to the term 'healthy scratch' after sitting out Hamilton's first regular-season game.
Understandably, Bozon's progress will be a story to watch all season in the WHL. The young Frenchman evinced his pro potential by scoring 36, 36 and 33 goals in his three seasons in the league with Kamloops and Kootenay.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.