Dreaming in red and white
U.S. born Kozun heads north of the border to suit up in world championship
By Rita Mingo, Canwest News Service
December 24, 2009
He may have been born in the United States, but Brandon Kozun's most fervent wish has always been to play for Canada.
"I could have played for the U.S., as well,'' said Kozun, who was born in Los Angeles, "but Canada's got a great program and ever since day one I felt that I was Canadian and I wanted to play for Canada.
"Anytime you get a chance to play for Canada at the world juniors it's a dream of every kid.''
Kozun has that opportunity over these Christmas holidays as a member of Canada's junior hockey squad, which will vie for the 2010 IIHF world championship during the tournament in Regina and Saskatoon.
The diminutive Calgary Hitmen forward (five-foot-seven and 156 pounds) seems to be built for the international game.
"He's smaller, but he plays a lot bigger than his frame,'' said Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson. "He's willing to go to the tough areas.''
Williamson has had the pleasure of coaching the 19-year-old this Western Hockey League season and of watching Kozun carry a lot of the team's fortunes on his lean shoulders. Kozun, Calgary's MVP last year, leads the WHL in scoring with 63 points in 33 games, three up on his nearest rival and current world junior teammate Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats.
"He's definitely got good speed and I think he'll fit well into the style of play with the higher pace and tempo,'' said Williamson. "He's extremely competitive and he's willing to play different styles. Brandon is the type of player who plays best when it's a big game and there's a lot of pressure. And as the tournament goes on, I expect he's one of the guys who they will turn to.''
In the exhibition stages of the tournament, head coach Willie Desjardins has mixed his lines in order to find the right combinations. In one outing, he had Kozun playing alongside London's Nazem Kadri and Baie-Comeau's Gabriel Bourque.
"You always like chemistry to develop,'' noted Desjardins. "It's a pretty explosive line. If they play good D, then they'll be real effective.
"Every time I seen him, he's played well,'' he added about Kozun. "He plays hard. He's not afraid of traffic, real good speed and just a good overall player and the type of guy you want in a tournament like this.''
A sixth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2009 NHL entry draft, Kozun has already enjoyed some high times in his green hockey career. Yet this event, is bigger than anything he's been a part of.
"It's been unreal,'' he acknowledged. "Like nothing I've ever experienced before. I'm just trying to take one step at a time and hopefully everything will go well. I'm not too sure what my role is at this point. But I think everyone has to play together if we want to win a gold medal.
"It's going to be crazy. Obviously those fans are pretty wild, so it should be fun.''
Expectations are nothing new for Kozun, he shoulders them each time he pulls on a Hitmen sweater. It's the ability to meet them that sets him apart from other young Canadian stars.
Like his teammates, he's got gold on the brain.
"Anytime you play for Canada that's the expectation,'' he said, "and that's how we'll take it.
"I don't think I feel different,'' he added. "Obviously it's a huge honour, and I'm pretty proud of that. But there's a job to be done and we have to get out there and get it done.''
Worlds set Draper's path
Kris Draper's role as a defensive specialist was defined at the 1991 world junior hockey championship in Saskatoon.
Draper, who has gone on to play more than 1,000 National Hockey League games and win the Stanley Cup four times, accepted a new role in 1991.
Before that, he was considered a scorer with the Canadian national team and the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario League.
He thought offence before defence. That is until former Peterborough Petes coach Dick Todd, the head coach of Canada's national junior squad at the time, got his hands on him.
"Dave Draper was the personnel guy who did the pre-scouting (in 1991)," said Todd. "He went to the (Russia-Finland) game and gave us a great scouting report. One of the things that come out of it was that Pavel Bure was the key to the Russian team. We devised a strategy where we put a young player who, up until that point, had been frustrated with his game as far as scoring-wise goes.
"I went to him (Kris Draper) and said, 'We're thinking about sticking a man on Bure and we're giving you the opportunity. Do you feel that you'd like to take that opportunity? It means a lot of ice time, but it means, more or less, that you're sacrificing yourself to prevent him from scoring goals.'
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun