With 20 goals in his previous 22 games, Kootenay Ice forward Tim Bozon was playing so well that nobody paid much attention when his nose suddenly started bleeding during warm-ups for his Western Hockey League game against the Saskatoon Blades on Feb. 28.
The Montreal Canadiens' third-round pick (No. 64) in the 2012 NHL Draft scored late in the first period to spark Kootenay's comeback from a two-goal deficit for a 4-2 win.
The next morning Bozon was rushed to a hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.
Five months removed from a bout with a severe form of meningitis, Bozon is returning to the ice with an eye on Canadiens training camp in September.
"I'm feeling really good. I'm really close to being 100 percent like I was before," Bozon told NHL.com. "The most important thing for me was to be happy and to make sure I have a good mentality. It's coming back slowly. Every time I go on the ice I see the progress and that makes me happy."
Following the win in Saskatoon, Bozon went to dinner with teammates before returning to his hotel. Still hungry, Bozon, then 19, and roommate Luke Philp ordered more food from room service when Bozon began complaining of headaches. Athletic therapist Cory Cameron suspected it was a migraine and gave him some medication. No one could have predicted what would happen next.
"I spent some time with him and monitored him as he slept off and on and then made a decision around 7 a.m. that I needed to call an ambulance," Cameron said. "I knew he wasn't understanding what I was saying, he was kind of staring right through me. There was something strange going on. From all the medical professionals I spoke to, it definitely could have gone the other way in a hurry."
Within minutes of arriving at Saskatoon Royal University Hospital, Bozon was intubated and machines were required to help him breathe. He woke up days later with no memory of what had happened; his parents, who flew to Saskatoon from their home in Switzerland, were by his side.
Bozon was diagnosed with Neisseria meningitidis, listed in critical condition and spent the next four weeks in the hospital undergoing what doctors described as "aggressive treatment, including being in a coma." When he was discharged March 28, four days after his 20th birthday, his father, Philippe Bozon, who played parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Blues, choked back tears and credited Cameron with saving his son's life.
"People can say, 'You did a great job and you saved his life.' But for the first 15-20 days he was in the hospital, we didn't know if I did save his life, because he still could have passed away," Cameron said. "That was a pretty stressful time."
After 12 days in intensive care and almost a month in the hospital, Bozon lost close to 50 pounds and his voice was hoarse from surgery. He hoped to return to the ice at some point; however, his first task was to relearn some of the most basic aspects of daily life.
"The first exercise was just walking, biking, but really slow. No cardio. Also some exercises to learn how to breathe properly again," Bozon said. "That was really frustrating. I wanted to go on the bike, I wanted to go on the treadmill, I wanted to do some bench press. But I couldn't even do that because they said you have to start relearning everything."
After three weeks of low-impact rehab at his home in France, Bozon coordinated with Canadiens strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard, who assigned him a workout regimen. From that point on, he was in constant contact with Allard and director of player development Martin Lapointe. Bozon documented his training extensively on Twitter and was on ice by June 5.
Before his training began, Bozon was inspired by a phone conversation with Joel Bouchard, the president and general manager of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A veteran of 364 NHL games, Bouchard played after spinal meningitis almost killed him in 2000.
"He's the main person for me in my rehab, because you can talk with your family and the doctors, but it's not the same," Bozon said. "He told me everything I wanted to know. When I talked to him, I had a big smile on my face even though I was in bad shape."
The real test for Bozon will come July 31, when he plays his first game since that night in Saskatoon. Competing for France's Under-23 national team, he will travel to Ostrava, Czech Republic, to participate in a tournament against six teams from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
"It's really exciting. I'm pretty sure that when I play my first game I'm going to be emotional," he said. "To be back on the ice playing a game, being in game situations, with all the routines and rituals I do before games and during the game, I feel like I'm going to be emotional. I'm going to be really happy."
It was Bozon who approached French hockey officials about playing in Ostrava. After conferring with Lapointe and Allard, he decided the tournament would be the perfect opportunity to gauge how ready he will be for Canadiens training camp a month later.
Back up to his playing weight of 193 pounds, Bozon appears to have regained the quickness and hand speed that helped him score 105 goals and 231 points in 203 WHL games with Kootenay and the Kamloops Blazers. But there's still a ways to go.
"I think his determination is going to take him wherever he wants to go. Since the day I met him, I know all he can think of is being a professional hockey player," said Cameron, who visited Bozon in France two weeks ago. "The road he's on right now is going to help him get there pretty quick. His determination and drive is probably higher than anyone I've ever seen."
If he attends Montreal's training camp, Bozon will no doubt be asked about how far he's come in such a short time. The hope is his journey is just beginning.
"It's a long story to tell, but I don't mind telling it. It's part of my life and something that happened," Bozon said. "The fact that I succeeded and I'm in shape right now, I'm proud of that."