Famed wrestler Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart was one of the original owners of the Western League’s Calgary Hitmen and the reason the team was named as such. With the franchise reaching its 20th anniversary next season, a new retro jersey has been released honoring the Hitmen’s roots.
The Kingston Frontenacs have long been the Charlie Browns of the Ontario League. Even with the addition of much-beloved NHL Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour as the team’s coach and now GM, the Fronts could not get past the first round of the playoffs. When Gilmour brought in former Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Todd Gill to replace him behind the bench in 2011-12, some believed the team’s luck would change, as Gill had been very good as a Jr. A coach.
But a team some believe to be “cursed” lived up (down?) to expectations last night, losing in Game 7 at home to the underdog Peterborough Petes in a series they once led three games to none. Not only that, but the Frontenacs were winning 3-0 in Game 6 before blowing that lead and losing 5-4. Kingston has not won a playoff series since 1998.
Game 7 provided the worst letdown as 2014 draft prospect Nick Ritchie scored the winner in overtime:
The night Tim Bozon fell seriously ill with meningitis, he was in the middle of a business trip. In fact, earlier in the evening, he played and scored his 33rd goal of the season for the Kootenay Ice in its 4-2 win over the Saskatoon Blades.
That was Feb. 28. Just a little more than four weeks after a life-and-death scare that had him in a medically induced coma, Bozon is slowly recovering, but his family facesthe possibility of having to absorb $100,000 in medical bills for the care he received in Saskatoon and further rehabilitation he requires to get his strength back.
And here’s where everything gets a little murky. Western League commissioner Rob Robison told thn.com that, “It’s our objective and our plan right now to ensure that all the costs are covered.” Which is all well and good, but it’s far from an iron-clad guarantee that someone aside from the Bozon family will be stuck paying these bills.
The league has set up a trust fund and is encouraging fans to donate to it in order to help. Judge for yourself on the optics of that one. All I know is that the day after this story broke, Hockey Canada put a cattle call out to recruit volunteers for the 2015 World Junior Championship, which is slated for Montreal and Toronto and is expected to turn a profit of between $20 million and $30 million, of which the Canadian Hockey League will receive 35 percent. If the tournament reaches even the conservative objective of $22 million, that means the CHL will receive $7.7 million. Guaranteeing $100,000 for a player who fell ill while representing his team doesn’t seem like it would be that onerous, does it?
It’s one thing to declare your “objective” not to saddle the Bozon family with any debt, but it’s another to actually guarantee that won’t happen. The WHL, which is currently receiving and paying Bozon’s medical bills, and the CHL should do the right thing immediately and put the Bozon family’s mind at ease on this.
What’s keeping them from doing that? Well, a lot of things, not the least of which is an insurance dispute. You see, Bozon was born in France and holds passports for both France and the United States. If he had been a Canadian citizen, none of this would have been an issue because whatever province covered his health insurance would have paid the costs in full. When Bozon signed with the Kamloops Blazers in 2011, the team took out medical and dental insurance that went with him when he was traded to the Ice earlier this season. But as it turns out, that insurance policy has limits and Bozon’s hefty medical bills far exceeded them.
(If nothing else, this should be a cautionary tale for any European player coming to the CHL. These players should know that if they suffer a catastrophic illness away from the rink while they’re playing junior hockey in North America, there’s a chance they could be stuck with a six-figure medical bill.)
The insurance broker for Hockey Canada, meanwhile, has argued that Bozon’s illness is not a work-related injury, despite the fact that meningitis is a bacterial infection that can incubate by living in close quarters, such as with other members of a hockey team on a road trip. The average incubation period for the disease is four days – the Ice left for its road trip Feb. 24 and Bozon began feeling ill the night of Feb. 28 – so it’s very possible he contracted the illness on that road trip. (The team also played Feb. 22 in Spokane, leaving Feb. 21 and returning Feb. 23.)
Tim Bozon is the son of Philippe Bozon, who played two years in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues in the early 1990s. He made $470,000 in the NHL, which doesn’t include the money he made as a professional in France, Germany and Switzerland before and after his NHL career. Tim, meanwhile, signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens that paid him a signing bonus of $92,500 this season and is scheduled to pay him the same amount next season and $70,000 in 2015-16.
So we’re talking about a family that is likely fairly well off, but certainly not NHL-level wealthy. Chances are it will not be saddled with a debt just because their son got sick, but it would be nice for the Bozons to know the league their son plays in has their back. Guaranteed.
There’s a lot of movement in the prospect world right now as juniors and Europeans find their seasons ending, but the American League is still chugging along. From Robert Hagg and Dylan Labbe playing their first AHL games to Jake Paterson joining Grand Rapids, it’s an exciting time. There are also two intense Game 7s in the Ontario League playoffs Tuesday night, with Peterborough erasing a 3-0 deficit on Kingston and Niagara trying to hold off the favored North Bay Battalion. On top of that, Boston College, North Dakota, Union and Minnesota punched their tickets to the Frozen Four. Let’s take a look at some of the other names in the prospect world that we’re keeping an eye on.
Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
When Ritchie goes into beast mode, it’s tough to stop the young winger. At 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, he’s got the carriage to be an NHLer right now, but the Petes are happy he’s still with them. The power forward had two goals and a helper in Peterborough’s shocking come-from-behind Game 6 win over Kingston, a game in which the Petes trailed 3-0 before Ritchie got the 5-4 comeback started. But to hear the kid tell it, this was always a tight series.
“We were down 3-0 and all three games we lost were close ones,” he said. “Because we were playing so well, we knew the series was far from over.”
Part of the Petes’ success lately has been the top line of Ritchie and fellow 2014 prospect Eric Cornel with speedy center Hunter Garlent, who came over in a trade from Guelph and once played lacrosse with Ritchie.
“Ever since we picked up Garlent, we’ve been clicking,” Ritchie said. “We complement each other pretty well and we all like to move the puck.”
Citing Milan Lucic and Jamie Benn as NHL models for his game, Ritchie also has older brother Brett, the Dallas prospect, to lean on.
“I’ve tried to do everything he’s done,” Nick said. “I still try to watch his games when I can and we get excited for each other when we do well.”
Thanks to his combination of size, skill and snarl, Nick will likely be chosen in the top 12 this summer, besting his second-rounder brother. But Brett is already succeeding in the pros with AHL Texas, so Nick will have to keep working hard if he wants to keep the family tradition going. Draft eligible in 2014.
It’s not a close series, but it has certainly turned into a strange one. During London’s 10-2 stomping of Windsor in Game 3 of opening round Ontario League playoff action, Knights goalie Anthony Stolarz took exception to a dig from Windsor’s Josh Ho-Sang. Stolarz, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick who played for Team USA at the world juniors, responded by slashing the Spitfires star in the back of the head:
And that wasn’t even the strangest thing to happen in Windsor last night.
SAGINAW, MICH. – Terry Trafford of the Saginaw Spirit played the last game of his life Feb. 17 at the RBC Centre in Sarnia. It was three days after his 20th birthday, which should have been a happy time for him. It was Valentine’s Day and he was in love with his high school sweetheart, Skye Ciezslak, with whom he was also celebrating their fourth anniversary of dating. But on that day, the dark clouds that prompted Terry Trafford to inexplicably and meticulously plan his own death were forming into a storm of despair.
“It was the worst day of his life,” Cieszlak recalled in an exclusive interview with thn.com “He sat there and was depressed about how he had just turned 20 and wasn’t a teenager anymore and that was his last year in the OHL.” Read more
SAGINAW, Mich. – Cody Payne buried his best friend last week. He plays for a team that has gone to two funerals in the past two months for two people whose combined ages was younger than 22.
Cody Payne and his Saginaw Spirit teammates had every reason and every excuse to mail in their first-round playoff series against the powerful Erie Otters. Everyone would have understood if their statement to the hockey world was that they had endured enough and they’d prefer to go quietly into the night. Read more
If anyone knows how to win a championship in a short tournament while hitting the ground running, it’s Kevin Dineen. Parachuted in to the Canadian women’s Olympic team less than two months before the Sochi Games, the ex-Florida Panthers bench boss helped the squad win gold over a very tough USA side. Now he’ll try to do the same with the boys of the under-18 squad, though under considerable less pressure, of course.
The world under-18s are a funny tournament for Canada, because it occurs during the major junior playoffs. Therefore, most of the nation’s best talents are busy and do not attend. The Americans have been the favorites in recent years because they send their under-18 squad from the National Team Development Program – not only are they among the best draft-eligible kids in the nation, but they’ve also been playing with each other all season.