BROSSARD, Quebec -- More than five months after being afflicted with a rare form of meningitis and nearly losing his life, Tim Bozon arrived at the Montreal Canadiens' training facility as ready as he's ever been to play hockey.
Speaking to the Montreal media for the first time since his illness as the Canadiens kicked off their rookie camp Friday, the 20-year-old forward prospect reassured everyone he is in perfect health.
"If I wasn't at 100 percent then I wouldn't be here today," said Bozon, a third-round pick (No. 64) by the Canadiens in the 2012 NHL Draft. "There was no pressure from the Canadiens, but I know they won't be doing me any favors, either. That's normal; this is a sports environment and it's competitive. It's up to me to carve out a niche. As of [Saturday], I want to be a normal player, act like nothing ever happened and turn the page."
Saturday is the start of the on-ice portion of the camp after the prospects underwent physical testing Friday. In a way it will represent the final step in Bozon's rehabilitation, a day he's been impatiently awaiting for months.
"When I left the hospital, this is what I was thinking about. It was my goal to be here," he said. "I won that battle and I'm very proud of that. … Many people helped me a lot over the past five months to help me realize this dream, and they're the people I'm thinking about now that I'm here."
One day after helping the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League to a road victory against the Saskatoon Blades on Feb. 28, Bozon was taken to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, where he was placed into a medically induced coma. He was in critical condition after being diagnosed with Neisseria meningitidis. He was taken out of the coma March 19 and was released from hospital nine days later.
Bozon admitted he is not the same person he was before that day in Saskatoon.
"It changed my life, for sure," he said. "I'm a different person now. When you're placed in a life-or-death situation at 20, you start to see life differently. I'm more mature now … and I look at it as something that made me stronger."
Bozon has been hard at work since his release from the hospital. Despite numerous temptations near his home in the south of France, Bozon did everything he could to make it to Montreal in time for rookie camp.
"It was long," he said. "They were five intense months, every day, twice a day. As I often say, I live in the south of France near the beach, but in five months I didn't go once."
Most hockey players use their summer workouts to improve their game. Bozon spent his summer trying to reach the same level of conditioning he had before the illness. It was no small task.
"I keep saying I lost a summer in the sense that I wasn't able to improve physically, I didn't get bigger than I was before," he said. "But that's a small detail. I'm happy with my training. I even beat my record from last year in the beep test."
Bozon comes from a hockey family. His father, Philippe, became the first player born and trained in France to reach the NHL when he played for the St. Louis Blues in 1991; he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame for his play with the French national team. His grandfather Alain also played for France internationally.
Tim Bozon was confident in his chances to play in the NHL, as his father had. But the enormous obstacle placed in his path put things in perspective. It also might have given him the extra little motivation he needed to push harder to reach his dream.
"I've always said that everything in life happens for a reason, and maybe this will make me realize how hard you have to work to reach the NHL," he said.
Bozon is fully aware that he is lucky to be alive. That is why over the coming days, and hopefully for the rest of his career, he is going to try to take full advantage of every opportunity he is given.
"What's happening to me here is a bonus," he said. "I'm not paying attention to numbers; I just want to have fun and try to reach my dream. I know that five months ago I was in a hospital bed half dead, and I'll never forget that. It's motivation for me, and now, I'm going to have some fun."