In the 1860s, U.S. author Horace Greeley coined the phrase, "Go west, young man," motivating American expansion to the west coast.
In Switzerland, the phrase has been co-opted to, "Go to the Western Hockey League, young hockey players."
Kamloops Blazers forward Tim Bozon is the latest to follow that mantra, becoming the most recent Swiss junior player to successfully migrate to the WHL.
The 6-foot, 183-pound left wing led all first-year WHL players with 36 goals in 2011-12, and his 71 points were second among league rookies and third on the Blazers. He also was an impressive plus-27, third on the team and fifth among league rookies.
Tim Bozon says his dream is to play in the NHL. To make that happen, he left his home in Switzerland to follow the new path for Swiss players -- a stop in the Western Hockey League. (Photo: Kamloops Blazers)
"Obviously he's a talented young man," Kamloops coach Guy Charron told NHL.com. "He's inherited some genetics from his dad [former NHL player Philippe Bozon]. He's a very smart player. He did a tremendous job for us."
Bozon also had an impressive turn at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in February, impressing many with his creativity in the Breakaway Challenge event. He held the puck on the blade of his stick and then extended the stick high over his head as he skated in on goal. It was a move he said he had been practicing for two years -- back to when he saw fellow Swiss native Nino Niederreiter pull off his memorable glove toss during the same event at the 2010 Top Prospects Game.
"Everyone remembers his one-hand goal, so I tried to do a different one with one hand," Bozon told NHL.com in February. "I didn't score -- almost scored -- but I tried the creativity he [Niederreiter] had two years ago."
Niederreiter now plays for the New York Islanders after starting his North American career in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. He's one of a growing number of Swiss players to come through the WHL on their way to the NHL, including Anaheim Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa (Lethbridge Hurricanes) and Calgary Flames forward Sven Baertschi (Portland).
"Niederreiter and Baertschi, what they did in the past is pretty amazing," Bozon said. "When you come here you have the confidence that they had success so why not have success like them?"
Niederreiter, Sbisa and Baertschi were first-round NHL picks; it's unlikely Bozon will hear his name called on the first day of the draft, but NHL Central Scouting has him No. 42 on its final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft, so if he doesn't go on Day 1, it's unlikely he'll be waiting long before his name is called.
"He is a gifted player with very, very good hockey sense," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He's quick in close quarters but not breakaway speed. He finds the open ice with his smarts and skills. Plays a tough game … doesn't back away from anyone or any situation.
His game got better and stronger as the year went on."
"Bozon had a pretty good year," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald added. "He's got good size but needs to improve his balance and positioning in his one-on-one battles for the puck. … He's not the smoothest skater but seems to have a knack for getting in the right spot at right time. Has nice timing and great eye/hand coordination. He's more of an offensive player at this point in time. He needs to work on his two-way game but overall had an impressive season. He could be a surprise pick for a team down the road."
""Niederreiter and Baertschi, what they did in the past is pretty amazing. When you come here you have the confidence that they had success so why not have success like them?""
-- Tim Bozon
Charron said he was a bit surprised at how quickly Bozon adjusted to life back in North America -- he was born in St. Louis, during his father's four-season stint with the Blues.
"It was probably more, 'Can he adapt?'" Charron said. "Can he understand and play the North American style of hockey? We don't have to go too far, it's a smaller rink. Skillful players are going to be tested a lot more, there's a bigger physical presence. He adapted to it."
Bozon, who was playing for the Lugano organization in Switzerland, said he saw more opportunity for himself by coming to North America.
"All hockey players dream to play in the NHL, and to play in the CHL you have more of a chance to be viewed by scouts and it's more the style of the NHL," Bozon said. "We don't have these back home, we don't have a lot of scouts come and watch the game for the young guys."
Bozon said he didn't know much about Kamloops, which selected him with the 27th pick of the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. After talking to former NHL player and Lugano teammate Hnat Domenichelli -- Domenichelli won two Memorial Cups in four seasons with the Blazers -- he was convinced Kamloops would be a good spot for him.
And to say the Blazers have been happy would be an understatement.
2012 NHL DRAFT
From player to scout
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"I like his competitiveness," three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi, a Blazers co-owner who coached Bozon at the Top Prospects Game, told NHL.com. "He's got great hands, he's a great skater and he competes. His consistency is going to get better and better as he gets older. He's a 17-year-old man who's coming over [and] it's not easy when you come over. It's a different environment coming over from Europe, and he's handled it very well. What I like is he's a great kid."
Bozon said getting used to the smaller ice rink was a big adjustment, as was improving his English-language skills. He already speaks French, German and Italian, so adding another language wasn't that arduous. Second-year Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Dave Sutter -- one of four other Swiss players to skate in the WHL in 2011-12 -- also provided help in adjusting.
While the 2011-12 season went well, Bozon knows there are more adjustments he has to make in his game before he's ready to step into an NHL lineup. He still has to get stronger and more adept at playing in the defensive zone. His coach agreed, but said he has no doubts Bozon will make the necessary improvements in his game and continue to grow and develop next season.
"His determination to be a player makes it that he's willing to do whatever it takes to be a player," Charron said. "If you're going to be intimidated and you hope you're going to be a player but you're not willing to make the right sacrifices … he's willing to make the right sacrifices to play in the NHL."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK