March 28, 2014
Outlined against a giant get-well card, rasping out words in short bursts, Tim Bozon strode into a room at Royal University Hospital, embodying a cautious hope.
Exactly four weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens draft choice played his last game with the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice before taking ill and being rushed to Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital, where he was diagnosed with Neisseria Meningitis and had to be put into a medical induced coma. On Friday, he began the next step, which begins with plans to perform a ceremonial faceoff on Saturday in Cranbrook, B.C., when the Ice host a playoff game against the rival Calgary Hitmen.
"I'm doing good, I've been through a lot," Bozon, who marked his 20th birthday on Monday while in the hospital, said during a press conference streamed by Global News. "It's been about a month and I've improved a lot and I'm feeling better now. As you can tell, my voice is not 100 per cent recovered, but I'm feeling better. I'm excited to leave the hospital.
"It's going to be exciting to get back to Kootenay and see the boys, say bye one more time for I leave back for Europe."
Bozon confined himself to a few short comments during the press conference. His Switzerland-based parents Helene and Philippe, who have spent nearly four weeks in Saskatchewan, were also present. The Habs prospect's former NHLer father had to manage some tears.
"It's been an unbelievable month for us," Philippe said. "Obviously there was the tough part but some nice things have happened to our family. Everyone, from all the people in hockey to the doctors to the people on the sixth floor helping with the physiotherapy, have been unbelievable to us ... I can't believe how much support we've had from all over the world."
Turning to face his son, the former St. Louis Blues left wing said: "I want to say how proud I am of you Timmy, fighting like you did. I know it was a tough fight and I know it is still a tough fight. I will always have faith in you, Timmy, my son, so keep going."
Doctor: 'His early progress has been so tremendous'
Tim Bozon's plight brought out the best of the hockey universe, from the Saskatoon Blades offering their support to his parents through to fans signing giant get-well cards. The WHL is also managing a trust fund to help pay for medical- and rehabilitation-related expenses that are not covered by the player and his family's insurance.
"I have no words to [describe] how good they were," Philippe Bozon said of the Blades organization. "We won't forget what you did for us."
Tim Bozon came to North America in 2011 after the Kamloops Blazers selected him in the Canadian Hockey League import draft. The young Frenchman instantly became a charismatic, creative forward with the Blazers, scoring 36 goals in each of his first two seasons. The Habs drafted him after his first WHL season. Last spring, he played for France in the world hockey championship, a rare feat for a teenager.
Kamloops traded him to Kootenay early this year. Bozon was having a strong season with 33 goals and 69 points over 63 games.
The young athlete will visit with the Canadiens physicans before returning to his native France to continue his rehab. Naturally, people are bound to wonder about Bozon's chance to returning to elite-level hockey, but for now, it's a wonder enough that's he's up and ambulatory.
"Any bacterial meningitis is a serious problem and he certainly was very sick but he received excellent care," said Dr. Gary Hunter, the neurologist who treated Tim. "Because he's a young tough kid he was able to pull through. His progress since he left the ICU has been really amazing. So I think his prognosis is really excellent. He's really motivated. He's got an amazing family that kept me calm most of the time in the ICU. He's a tough guy and he's really motivated so I think he's going to do really well.
"Bacterial meningitis in young people that are young and healthy is uncommon, in the first place, This particular bug is even more uncommon. We don't have a good reason for why he contracted it besides bad luck, really.
"It's very difficult to speculate exactly on his long-term neurological prognosis but his early progress has been so tremendous and he's such a healthy guy that I'm very optimistic about that [playing hockey again]."
Bozon, listed at 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds, looked noticeably gaunt in a polo shirt and warmup pants. There's no underestimating the length of the road back.
"I think it's too early to do that kind of projection," said Rolly Thompson, Bozon's adviser. "But my gut feeling is he's going to play someday for the Montreal Canadiens."
Philippe Bozon made sure to credit Ice athletic therapist Cory Cameron for his quick thinking following that Friday night Ice-Blades game. Any delay in beginning treatment for meningitis is likely to affect a patient's chance for a more healthful outcome.
"He reacted really well when things happened that night, really quick after the game," Philippe said. "It was amazing. In three hours Tim went from being a healthy man. Cory did the right thing by bringing him to the hospital. He probably saved his life and I'm really thankful for him."
During his last night in hospital, a few thank-you tweets were sent out from Bozon's account. Every little bit helped during a life-threatening scare.
"I had texts every day," he said. "All the messages, all the Twitters, I'm so grateful."
(Editor's note: Donations to the Tim Bozon Trust Fund be made at any BMO Bank of Montreal branch in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba or Saskatchewan. Or through the Western Hockey League:
Western Hockey League
c/o Tim Bozon
Father David Bauer Arena
2424 University Dr. NW
Calgary AB / T2N 3Y9)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.