Special to the News
When Dylan Cozens was chosen as the first-ever Yukoner to represent Canada in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, he was the last to find out.
Cozens, a Whitehorse native currently playing for the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Western Hockey League, was on a retreat with his teammates at a ranch in Sundre, Alberta, where there was no cell service.
On Oct. 17, he got the news second-hand, from the Hurricanes’ general manager Peter Anholt, and head coach Brent Kisio.
“I think we were all pretty confident that he was going to make the team so it wasn’t really much of a shock,” said Kisio.
Still, Kisio noted, it was reason for celebration.
“Any time one of our players is with Hockey Canada it makes us proud. It’s a great opportunity to put on the Hockey Canada jersey for the first time, and that’s a real special experience,” Kisio said.
Speaking on the phone from Alberta over the weekend, Cozens, 16, was likewise pleased, but relaxed about the news. He seemed more focused on making it to Sunday afternoon practice with the Hurricanes than on the Challenge, which takes place in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C., from Nov. 5 to 11. That said, Cozens agreed the news was “obviously exciting.”
“It’s always been a lifelong dream of mine to represent Canada and wear the maple leaf,” he said.
Players for the U-17 team were chosen based on their performance at a development camp held in British Columbia in July. Cozens is one of 66 players who were chosen from among 111 to make up the three Canadian teams competition (U-17 is the only division with three separate Canadian teams) that will play in the against teams from the U.S., Sweden, Russia, and more.
That development camp is where the decision was made to invite Cozens to the team, said Shawn Bullock, senior manager of hockey operations and men’s national teams for Hockey Canada, but the organization had already been tracking Cozens for a while at that point.
“We have scouts across Canada and he was recognized as one of the top players.… It’s almost like a two-year body of work that we’ve been watching Dylan,” said Bullock.
Included in that work is Cozens’ play with the Hurricanes. Kisio said Cozens has made a significant impact since joining the team during playoffs in 2017. In August, Cozens scored the game-tying goal against the Medicine Hat Tigers during game seven of the Canes Central Division Championships.
“This year he’s come in and he has something like six goals and he already plays in our top lines,” said Kisio. “He’s been a really good player for us this year…. He’s a big kid, he skates really well for his age. He’s really strong as well. He can make plays, he’s confident. He’s a pretty special player.”
Cozens said his time with the Hurricanes so far has helped him develop in a way he thinks will be advantageous on the ice with Team Canada. Coming into the WHL at 15, he had to learn to compete with bigger players.
“Definitely I’ve had to be a lot faster,” he said. “I’ve had to react faster and keep the puck on the stick for less time.”
Cozens will have to take two weeks off from Hurricanes training to travel to Fort St. John and get in a few days of practice with his Hockey Canada team before competition begins.
He says he knows a handful of his soon-to-be teammates (including a few he played with in the Yale Hockey Academy), but that it will largely be a whole new group of guys learning to gel.
“Most of us have never played with each other so it’s going to be hard but we’re going to have to develop chemistry together right away. We’re going to have to play hard,” said Cozens, noting his team will be playing six games in seven nights, so one of the big challenges will be in keeping his body ready for that kind of schedule. Otherwise, Cozens said he just hopes to be able to pave the way for other Yukoners who want to do what he’s doing.
Bullock said that way is paved. This year’s teams have players from Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and the Yukon. There’s no reason to think there can’t be more.
“Continue to develop, we’ll find you,” he said. “If you’re a good hockey player there’s no question. Wherever you are, we’ll find you.”
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