The California kid with the Canadian passport is good to go. He gave the signal with one full-tilt spin around the rink and a nod to his Calgary Hitmen head coach.
For the last three days, Brandon Kozun, the Canadian Hockey League's leading scorer, had been bothered by an ankle injury and unable to skate at the MasterCard Memorial Cup. He had to take himself out of Calgary's loss to the Windsor Spitfires, had to sit and watch the Hitmen defeat the Moncton Wildcats and Brandon Wheat Kings.
Tired of all that sitting, Kozun sped through practice yesterday and pronounced himself ready for tonight's semi-final rematch against Brandon. He also made a different kind of statement.
"I feel like I'll be able to do some damage," he predicted.
Don't think he won't.
The 20-year-old Kozun scored 107 points this past Western Hockey League season, one more than touted juniors Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Kozun was also his team's top scorer in the playoffs, where he suffered an undisclosed ankle injury in the final series against the Tri-City Americans. Not just a supremely skilled right winger, Kozun is uber-competitive, a trait he attributes to his size (5-foot-9, 165 pounds). Fish food for the sharks, he's been told.
"Being a small guy, I've had a lot of doubters," he said. "There will always be doubters, but that's what makes you succeed."
Kozun was born in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. His father is American; his mother Canadian. At the age of 3, he followed his two older brothers into hockey, which was about to boom in Los Angeles thanks to Wayne Gretzky's arrival and the Kings' trip to the 1993 Stanley Cup final. It turned out one of Kozun's first coaches was Mike Barnett, then Gretzky's agent.
When his family moved to Calgary, Kozun played his minor hockey there and later showed his puck-handling abilities in the Alberta Junior League. By 2007-2008, he was a Hitmen regular and an offensive dynamo and a member of Canada's silver-medal-winning team at the 2010 world junior championship.
"He sees the ice so well. He seems to control the game," Calgary goaltender Martin Jones said. "He's such a skilled player, but to see a guy like him go into the corners and take a hit and bounce back, it gives us a boost when we need it."
Kozun, too, is eager to get a boost tonight, especially since he'll be trying to score on one of his oldest rivals, Wheat Kings' goalie Jacob De Serres, another Calgary minor-hockey product.
"We played against each other when we were younger a lot," Kozun said. "We played for fun back then. It wasn't do or die or risking your career."
And is it that now?
"No, not at all. But this is a little bigger deal than the atom championship."
Just a tad.
The winner of the Calgary-Brandon semi-final will face the defending Memorial Cup champion Spitfires in Sunday's final at Westman Place. Neither the Hitmen nor the Wheat Kings have ever won a national title.Report Typo/Error