Dylan Cozens celebrates after scoring Canada’s first goal during the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal match between Canada and Russia in Ostrava, Czech Republic on Jan. 5. (Petr David Josek/CP)

Dylan Cozens named WHL Eastern Conference Player of the Year

The 19-year-old forward had 85 points in 51 games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes

It’s been a busy start to 2020 for Whitehorse’s Dylan Cozens.

After winning gold with Team Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic back in January, the Buffalo Sabres first-round pick continued his strong play for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Cozens was leading his team in scoring when the WHL season was scrapped, finishing with 38 goals and 47 assists for 85 total points in 51 regular season games. The Whitehorse product also led the Hurricanes in game-winning goals with six and short-handed goals with four.

His impressive play meant a number of personal accolades being received this month. Cozens was named to the WHL Eastern Conference First All-Star Team on April 7, recognized as the Hurricanes most valuable player with the Harry Ingarfield Memorial Award on April 19, and finally named the WHL Eastern Conference Player of the Year on April 21.

As the player of the year for the east, he is now a finalist for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy given to the WHL’s Player of the Year — something Cozens said is special.

“It means a lot. There are lots of good players in the league this year (so) to be one of the nominees for that, it’s a huge award,” Cozens said. “Adam Beckman (the WHL Western Conference Player of the Year) had an unbelievable year with the amount of points he produced. … I’ll be happy for him if he wins — he’s one of my friends — but at the end of the day, I’m just grateful to be a nominee.”

Success for Cozens came early this season, earning multiple pre-season appearances for the Buffalo Sabres after impressing many with a strong showing at training camp. The 19-year-old said he tried to take what he learned from the NHL competition back to juniors.

“Those pre-season games that I got in the NHL this year just really showed the speed of the game and how quick the NHL is,” Cozens said. “One of my main goals was to just always keep that NHL speed — that NHL intensity — and make everyone else in the WHL play up to my level. I think I did a good job with that this year, but those games were definitely good for me and helped show me what I had to prepare for.”

While he had hoped to make the big club out of camp, Cozens said a year in junior opened the door for some different opportunities.

“It was disappointing to get sent down, but it is what it is and you’ve got to make the best out of it,” Cozens said. “It gave me a chance to represent Canada at the World Juniors and helped me develop a bigger leadership role on the Hurricanes. I just took every day as training and getting ready for training camp in Buffalo next year.”

Cozens, like everyone else, has a lot more down time than he anticipated this off-season, but is benefiting from being back at home.

“I’m still getting lots of training in with Northern Strength Academy and I was on my backyard rink until about a week ago,” Cozens said. “I’ve been doing good, getting out fishing and stuff, so it hasn’t been too bad.”

While most players are stuck training alone, Cozens has the advantage of being able to access his trainer one-on-one.

“I get to go and work out in a gym with my trainer, so I have a big advantage there,” he said. “Obviously my goal is to be in Buffalo. I want to be there. I feel like after I have a big summer here that I’ll be ready to make the jump.”

With COVID-19 casting a shadow over all sports this spring, the Yukoner said the first impact he felt from the virus came from an unlikely source.

“It ended up affecting us in terms of getting sticks,” Cozens said. “We couldn’t get any of our sticks, so we were running out. We thought it was pretty crazy it was affecting us all the way from (China).”

Cozens said he and his teammates didn’t give much thought to the season being delayed or cancelled, until the major announcements started coming thick and fast.

The NHL suspended its season, followed shortly by the CHL. Cozens said he and his teammates were told to stick around Lethbridge for a few days, in case there was a quick solution.

When that was no longer a possibility, the players were sent home and a few days later the season was officially cancelled.

“After they sent us home, it was very disappointing obviously, but it was expected,” Cozens said. “We were hoping for the best, but at the end of the day there is a bigger picture here and there are bigger problems going on.”

Although disappointed not to have a chance to try to win a Memorial Cup this year — “We thought we had a good chance of making a long run,” Cozens said — the silver lining was he did get to compete at the World Juniors.

“I’ve got to be grateful for some things I got in, like World Juniors,” Cozens said. “A month or two earlier and that could maybe not have happened.”

Cozens continues his preparation for Sabres training camp in the fall, but said he has still found some time to get out fishing — primarily for lake trout.

“They’ve been alright,” he said about the fish. “A couple dead days though.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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