Of all the pressure Tim Bozon faced in his rookie season with the Kamloops Blazers, the worst of it may have come when he had to give a speech Thursday.
The WHL held its playoff news conference Friday at Interior Savings Centre, where the league announced its Western Conference awards finalists and all-star teams. Bozon, a Swiss forward with French and American roots, was named the West's nominee for the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year.
He's up against Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart, whose Eastern Conference nomination was announced Wednesday in Calgary. The awards will be handed out in Calgary on May 2.
Bozon has handled his first season of hockey in North America with little difficulty, picking up 71 points, including 36 goals, in 71 games. His play helped the Blazers to the B.C. Division title for the first time in 10 years.
Bozon said he wasn't expecting to receive such an accolade when he came to Canada last summer, and instead focused on trying to take it as a learning experience. The same thing went through his mind, he admitted, when he had to stand at the podium and give a short speech - in English - on Thursday.
"Every day it's a new experience for me," Bozon, who turns 18 on Saturday, said following the news conference. "This (news conference) is a new experience for me, the CHL Top Prospects Game was a new experience, the playoffs will be a new experience.
"As a hockey player, it's something you want to live. . . . For a European like me, you have to enjoy every moment, because it's all new and good."
The Blazers and Victoria Royals will open a first-round playoff series tonight, 7 o'clock, at ISC. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday, also at ISC, before Games 3 and 4 will be played in Victoria on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bozon wasn't the only member of the Blazers to get some love from the WHL on Thursday. General manager Craig Bonner was named the West's nominee for the Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy for executive of the year, while goaltender Cole Cheveldave and defenceman Austin Madaisky were named to the West's second all-star team.
All the Blazers' honourees were quick to pass around credit, but Bozon, who came into the season a little blind, is especially grateful.
"Everybody helped - the coaching staff and my teammates on the ice. My billets, too," Bozon said.
Bozon came a long way in his rookie season, but Madaisky really penned an incredible story.
Madaisky, who turned 20 on Jan. 30, returned from a broken neck to record 50 points, 37 of them assists, in 70 games. He was the anchor of the Blazers' defence, which allowed only 211 goals this season, second fewest in the West and fifth in the WHL.
Madaisky was injured Feb. 4, 2011, when he was driven backwards into the boards by Chilliwack Bruins defenceman Brandon Manning. Madaisky suffered a fractured C-7 vertebrae on the play, missed the rest of the season and only returned at the start of this season.
"I just approached it as any other injury," Madaisky said. "I guess there were a few reservations . . . wondering what it would be like getting back on the ice. But as soon as I set foot back on the ice, it was right back to where I was before."
Bonner has been the Blazers' general manager since the summer of 2008, and built the Blazers' roster that helped the club to a 47-20-5 record, good for fourth in the WHL.
He is nominated against Edmonton Oil Kings GM Bob Green, whose squad went 50-15-7 and captured the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for the WHL's top regular-season record.
"I find this quite humbling, considering all the great people in our league," Bonner told the news conference.
"We're all about the Kamloops Blazers, the logo on the front, not the name on the back. The players have bought into that, and that's why we are where we are today."
For the rest of the WHL Western Conference award nominees and all-star teams, please see Scoreboard. The player of the year nominees will be announced at a later date.