Habs prospect Bozon already won biggest fight

Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon doesn't remember much about his life-and-death struggle with a severe form of meningitis last year. The 12 days he spent in a coma after initially complaining of headaches are a blank, just a dark, empty space in his young life.

But he'll never forget March 28, 2014, the day he was discharged after spending a month at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

His scary battle with meningitis, which causes inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, left Bozon's 6-foot-1 frame withered down to 140 pounds. Being incubated and losing his strength had reduced his voice to a raspy whisper, and several days in a medically induced coma had effectively left the Canadiens' 2012 third-round pick starting his life over.

Almost 15 months later, the 21-year-old has big plans for his first season in pro hockey.

"I'm really looking forward to next season," Bozon said. "You never know if you will play in the AHL or get called up [to the NHL], but I have a lot of work to do."

Not that he hasn't done plenty of work already.

Following an intensive rehabilitation program, along with a final year playing with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, Bozon reported to Montreal's recent development camp weighing 207 pounds. That alone is a remarkable achievement considering how close he came to losing his life in the early hours of March 1, 2014.

No one paid much attention to Bozon's health during a game the night before in Saskatoon. A sudden nosebleed during pregame warmups was mostly ignored, especially after he scored a goal, his seventh in seven games, in Kootenay's 4-2 win against the Saskatoon Blades. It was later that evening that trainer Cory Cameron got a call from Bozon at the team hotel complaining of severe headaches.

After monitoring him for a few hours, Cameron decided to take Bozon to the hospital and quickly went to his hotel room to fetch some overnight items. When he returned to Bozon's room, Cameron realized something was very wrong.

"He was laying face down on the bed with his head turned to the side, unresponsive, breathing heavy," Cameron said. "We couldn't get any reaction from him when we talked to him. That's when I phoned the ambulance."

Within minutes of being admitted to the nearest hospital, Bozon was placed in a medically induced coma and had a ventilator breathing for him. Any hopes for Bozon's hockey career were suddenly overtaken by more important goals. Such as properly walking and breathing, both of which he learned all over again through a strenuous rehabilitation schedule that began shortly after he emerged from his coma.

The day after leaving the hospital, Bozon dropped the puck before the Ice's sold-out playoff game against the Calgary Hitmen, which Kootenay won to wrap up the opening-round series. It was a wonderful, triumphant moment for Bozon, but he wasn't out of the woods just yet.

Days later, he was overcome by debilitating headaches, which returned later that week during a trip with his family to Montreal to meet with Canadiens staff.

"It's something I'll never forget. I don't know what it was," Bozon said. "I wanted to punch my parents and destroy everything in the hotel room. The headache was really strong. I tried to communicate with my parents, but the words wouldn't come."

Bozon won't ever forgot those incapacitating headaches, but he intentionally avoided the details of what happened that terrifying night in Saskatoon. It wasn't until a dinner with Cameron months later that he learned everything. How he acted as if he was in some sort of hypnotic trance, occasionally cursing in French before battling the paramedics as they loaded him into the ambulance.

"I was really shocked. When we had that conversation, you start thinking about what could have happened," Bozon said. "I was finally ready to hear the truth. It was a good conversation. I needed to know and since then we don't talk about it."

With the Canadiens providing strict rehab guidelines, Bozon quickly moved on. By last year's development camp in Montreal, held mere months after his lengthy hospital stay, the only reminder of Bozon's health scare was a small IV scar on his right arm. Still working toward getting into playing shape, his focus had shifted entirely to making the jump to the pro game in the American Hockey League.

Montreal had other ideas, asking him to regain more of his strength and play an additional junior season with Kootenay.

"He was disappointed, that's for sure. But it shows his character. He wanted to prove that he could play pro," said Martin Lapointe, the Canadiens' director of player development. "But we all saw that he wasn't ready. He took it hard at first, but he felt after that it was probably the best move for him."

Bozon enjoyed an impressive bounce-back season with the Ice, finishing 13th in the WHL with 35 goals despite missing 17 games. In April, he finally got the call from the Canadiens, who assigned him to play in the season finale with their AHL affiliate in Hamilton, Ontario.

"I was expecting that moment for a while. The fact that I came back to junior was a huge disappointment for me," Bozon said. "I wanted to play some full games in the AHL. Once I did that, I was really happy."

The general plan in the Canadiens organization is for Bozon to play next season with the team's AHL affiliate, which recently relocated to St. John's, Newfoundland. Of course, Bozon plans on exceeding those expectations, something he has done more than once since emerging from the hospital 15 months ago.

It all starts in September at Montreal's training camp.

Considering what Bozon has already been through, anything is possible.

"He's a kid that really respects how lucky he was," Cameron said. "He's been given a second chance and I don't think he's going to waste that. He's going to do everything he can to achieve his goal."