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Former NHL player Bozon takes on new challenge

by Bill Meltzer
In North American circles, the career of new France junior national team coach Philippe Bozon is little more than a blip on the radar screen of hockey history. Internationally, however, he's rightfully considered to be one of the standout players of his generation.

Bozon played parts of four NHL seasons (1991-95) with the St. Louis Blues. In so doing, the left wing from Chamonix, France, became the first French-born-and-trained player to suit up in the National Hockey League.

Primarily used as a checking-line forward, Bozon was defensively sound and managed just 16 goals and 41 points in 144 games. While his NHL days may not have been much to brag about, Bozon enjoyed a stellar North American junior career with the QMJHL's St. Jean Beavers (for whom he scored 59 goals and 111 points in 65 games during the 1985-86 season).

Bozon took to hockey naturally. He got his love for the game from his father, Alain, who had been captain of France's national team. Under the auspices of his father and former Vancouver Canucks player Paulin Bordeleau (a French-Canadian), Bozon was a child prodigy. At the age of 16, Bozon became the youngest player ever to earn a spot on the French senior national team.

Internationally, his biggest impression was made in the Olympics and IIHF World Championships, where he was by far the best player on the French team. Bozon competed in four Olympics (1988, 1992, 1998 and 2002). He had 5 goals and 7 points in four games at the 1998 Nagano Games, a tournament that, for the first time, heavily featured NHL players.

In club team play, Bozon was a standout in Nationalliga (Switzerland) and the DEL (Germany) as well as the French national league. He was a major catalyst in Adler Mannheim winning three straight German championships between 1996-97 and 1998-99. He played his final games for Swiss club HC Geneve-Servette and retired after the 2005-06 season.

Totaling his junior, North American and European professional and international regular-season and playoff performances, Bozon scored 588 goals and 1,270 points in 1,136 games. Although never known as an especially pugnacious player, he was feisty enough to spend 1,391 minutes in a penalty box. He was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame last summer.

Within the tiny world that is French hockey, Bozon is a living legend. Like Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Cristobal Huet, Bozon is an inspiration to all young French players with dreams of playing hockey at the game's elite level. He was a charter inductee into his country's Hockey Hall of Fame, along with defenseman Jacques Lacarriere, a star in the 1920s and '30s, and builders Louis Magnus (for whom the top French league is named), Canadian-born Pete Laliberte and long-time French Ice Hockey federation president Jean Ferrand.

Now 42, Bozon recently was tabbed by the French Ice Hockey Federation to coach France's Under-20 national junior team. He will succeed Patrick Rolland, who resigned. Bozon had started his coaching career in Switzerland before his retirement as a player, serving as a player-coach for HC Geneve-Servette. Today, he coaches his sons in the Geneva organization.

In Under-20 international play, France plays at the Division I level, one step below the elites. Later this year, the French alpine city of Briancon will host the 2010 Under-20 World Championship Division I Group A tournament. The French will compete with Germany, Denmark, Slovenia, Ukraine and Japan for the right to earn a promotion to the elite-level 2011 World Junior Championships.

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