By Herald on December 11, 2020.
Dylan Cozens is going for gold again.
On Friday morning Hockey Canada announced its 25-man roster for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and the Lethbridge Hurricanes captain and Buffalo Sabres prospect was among six returnees from last year’s gold medal team looking to do it again, this time on Canadian soil.
After a hectic 2020 and a COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out the back half of the Canadian Hockey League season including the playoffs and threw a gigantic wrench into the start of the next season, the timing couldn’t be better.
“It’s different, but I’m excited just to get playing again,” said Cozens, who scored 38 goals and 85 points in 51 games with the Canes last season and will head to Buffalo’s training camp after the World Junior Championship no doubt looking to stay there. “This is going to be huge for all of our development leading into NHL seasons. I think with this tournament and then after that going to NHL camps we’re going to be in really good shape and at the top of our games. I’m just honoured to have been selected again to be a part of this team and hopefully we can go back-to-back.”
The six-foot-three, 185-pound forward from Whitehorse, Yukon won gold with Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic, scoring two goals and nine points and going plus-four.
Cozens is also the first Hurricanes player to represent Canada at back-to-back World Junior Championships since Zach Boychuk won gold medals in 2008 and 2009.
There’s another Lethbridge representative on Team Canada with Vancouver Giants head coach Mike Dyck as one of the assistant coaches.
With the roster set following Team Canada’s at-times quarantined selection camp, Cozens likes what he sees as they go for gold.
“I think a lot of people said this is going to be one of the best teams Canada has had in a long time,” said Cozens, one of nine Western Hockey League players selected to the Canadian roster that includes Giants defenceman Bowen Byram, who played with the Lethbridge Val Matteotti bantam AAA Golden Hawks and briefly with the Lethbridge midget AAA Hurricanes. “We’re getting guys like Kirby (Dach) back from the NHL and that doesn’t happen. I’m really excited about this team. There’s so much speed up front and so much skill, but guys are going to have to accept different roles. I think that’s going to be a big thing in this team’s success, there are so many guys that are top guys on their teams, but they’re going to have to adjust to a different role here.”
Lineups can change between now and when Canada kicks off the tournament against Germany Dec. 26 in the bubble in Edmonton, but the Canes captain established a good working relationship with Dach and London Knights forward Connor McMichael at the selection camp.
“I think right away we clicked and that was a really good line,” said Cozens. “Both of those guys are unbelievable players. McMichael is so smart and has one of the best shots I’ve seen. He’s a great player to play with and obviously Kirby has played a full year in the NHL already. He’s unbelievable out there with his poise. He always has his head up with his puck protection and making plays. He makes it so easy to play with him.”
The camp wasn’t without its uncertainties as the pandemic loomed over the proceedings, including a two-week quarantine after two players tested positive for the COVID.
“It was kind of all over the place and you just took things day-by-day,” said Cozens. “You never know what could happen tomorrow. Once we found out we had to quarantine for two weeks there were a lot of different emotions. We were angry that we had to take two weeks off this close to getting back on the ice in competitive games.”
But Cozens said his teammates took the glass-half-full approach, taking stock of where they were despite the circumstances.
“It was tough, but we had to look at it in a positive way,” he said. “We’re at a World Junior camp and that’s something we’ve wanted to do our whole lives and we knew there would be lots of kids dying to be in our position. So we looked at it positively and looked at what we could do to be better in our rooms, whether it was Zoom workouts. I think it brought everyone closer together. We battled together through this adversity and it going to really help bring us together for our tournament.”
As one of the six returnees, Cozens said his expected role under Team Canada head coach Andre Tourigny hasn’t been discussed much as of yet.
“We’re waiting to build the team before we get into those roles,” he said. “I haven’t heard too much yet, but being a returning guy, I want to be a guy that does it all – the power play and penalty kill – and can be relied on in all situations. That’s what I expect from myself.”
Being one of the returnees, Cozens can also shed some light on what to expect to his teammates getting their first glimpse at a World Junior Championship.
“The biggest thing is to never take any team lightly,” said Cozens. “All of these teams are filled with the best players in their country, so every team is good. I think the other thing is being able to bounce back. We saw it last year after our loss to Russia. We put it behind us right away and bounced back. It’s a tournament where you have to be able to reset quickly and get ready for the next game.”
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