If Taran Kozun wanted a vote of confidence from the Kamloops Blazers’ coaching staff, he got it on July 10.
Kozun is the Blazers’ No. 1 goaltender as camp continues today at Interior Savings Centre.
He got the starting job in the middle of the summer, when Kamloops traded Cole Cheveldave, its starter, to the Prince Albert Raiders.
Cheveldave was excellent in his two seasons in Kamloops, and leaves some big shoes to fill.
“I believe (Kozun) can do the job,” said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak after Monday scrimmages wrapped up. “That’s the reason we made the trade with Cole. Taran’s a guy we feel can step right in and do the job.”
Kozun admitted that he was a little surprised at the Cheveldave deal, in which the Blazers received prospect forward Jake Kryski, but mostly because of its timing. It was expected that the Blazers would trade either Cheveldave, who is going into his 20-year-old season, or Kozun, who is two days shy of his 19th birthday.
Cheveldave got a trade, and Kozun got a promotion.
“I was excited to hear that they were giving me the opportunity to take over,” said Kozun, a native of Nipawin, Sask. “I’m just going to go out and try to stop shots and keep performing.”
Since the Blazers listed him early in 2010, Kozun has done everything asked of him.
He came to camp in August 2010, but chose to leave after the Blue-White Game because he didn’t feel ready to play at the WHL level. He spent the 2010-11 season with the midget AAA Prince Albert Mintos.
He came back to battle for the open starting position before the 2011-12 season, but lost out to Cheveldave and Cam Lanigan. After spending 2011-12 with the SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks, going 5-10-1, with a 3.30 GAA and .904 save percentage, he finally cracked the Blazers’ roster in 2012-13, serving as Cheveldave’s backup.
He was solid when needed, appearing in 20 games, going 11-4-1, 2.36, .914. He also had two shutouts, including a 31-save effort in his final start, a 7-0 victory over the Prince George Cougars on March 16.
“It’s a little different, this time at camp,” Kozun admitted, “but knowing all the guys here really helps. You feel like you’re part of the team — but you still have to work, you still have to make saves and you still have to compete for your spot on the team.”
Kozun spent the summer working construction with his dad and training in Nipawin. Each week, he drove the 270 kilometres to Saskatoon to work on his skating.
The goal was to get stronger — something that will come in handy with Kozun facing the prospect of playing some 50 or 60 games this season. He played 35 games with the Mintos three seasons ago, but has appeared in fewer than 40 since.
“I did a lot of off-ice stuff . . . to get my strength up,” he said. “They say playing all those games is harder on you, but I think if you have a good mindset and don’t get too upset, you’ll be OK.”
Hunchak spoke of that — the need for Kozun to keep things on an even keel, not getting to low or too high during a season that will provide its fair share of peaks and valleys.
“He has to be consistent day in and day out,” Hunchak said. “With his practices and his games, we need to see the same Taran all the time, and I think that’s something that he’s learned over the last year.
“His mindset needs to change and he has to understand that every day he has to be the best player he can be.”
“When everything’s going good you can’t get too cocky out there,” he said. “If something happens, all of the sudden you lose confidence. You’ve got to keep going, keep battling.
It’s not always going to go your way.”
Kozun is the only sure thing in the Blazers’ goal at this time.
The Blazers brought six backup hopefuls to camp, and three remain — 16-year-old Cole Kehler of Altona, Man., and 17-year-olds Liam McLeod of Kamloops and Cameron Pateman of Regina. In all likelihood, one of these goalies is going to be backing up Kozun this season.
“They’re all very even, and they’re all different goaltenders,” Hunchak said. “We’ve got an interesting battle there, and it’s going to be a tough decision.”
The coaches aren’t looking simply for someone to open and close the gate during games, however.
“We need to find the guy who’s going to do the job,” Hunchak said, “not only in the backup role, but maybe pushing Taran and try to take his position.”
JUST NOTES: The Blazers trimmed their roster by 18 on Monday, leaving them with 39 players heading into today’s action. A complete roster is in Scoreboard. . . . The remaining players are divided into teams — Orange will be on the ice for a 9:15 a.m., practice, with Black on at 10:30 a.m. The teams will play in a controlled scrimmage at 7 p.m. — it is open to the public, and free. . . . Returning Blazers F Colin Smith, JC Lipon, Tim Bozon and Matt Needham and Kozun won’t play in tonight’s scrimmage, but are to play in the Blue-White Game on Wednesday, 7 p.m. . . . Six scrimmages were played Monday: Smith, Mitch Lipon, Nathan Looysen and Eric Krienke scored as Black beat White, 4-2. Bozon and Dexter Robinson scored for White, which went on to beat Black 1-0 on a goal by Joe Kornelsen. . . . Orange defeated Black twice, 2-1 and 2-1. Jermaine Loewen and Nick Chyzowski scored for Orange in the first game, with Mitch Friesen and Devin Oakes counting in the second; Krienke and Looysen had the Black goals. . . . Orange beat White 2-1 in a shootout, with Chyzowski scoring the winner and Oakes singling. Robinson scored for White, which came back to win the rematch, 3-0. Sam Grist had two goals, and Tyler Jeanson scored into the empty net.