HELSINKI – From the Stastnys to the Sutters, some families have forged amazing traditions in both international and pro hockey. You can add the Bozon clan to that list. Tim Bozon is making his World Championship debut for France under the watchful eye of his father, former national team star Philippe Bozon.
The 19-year-old left wing registered an assist in France’s 6-2 opening loss to Slovakia, and has looked quite good while playing fourth-line minutes (an average of 8:52 a game so far). Philippe, meanwhile, is serving as a commentator for French broadcaster Sport+.
Tim, coming off a 91-point sophomore season with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, didn’t hesitate when he got a chance to play for the Tricolore.
“My grandfather started playing for the French national team, and all my family are from France,” Tim explained after his team’s confidence-building 3-1 win over Austria on Sunday. “My dad was born in France and played for the team. I had a French passport. For me, I had think about playing for the U.S., Switzerland or France, but I decided to follow the example of my dad and my grandfather. It was an easy choice for me.”
Philippe, the first French-trained and born NHL player who was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008 after a career that included four Olympics and nine elite-division World Championships, couldn’t be prouder. France is vying to stay among the world’s top 16, as it has since 2008, and his son is making a contribution.
“Before the game against Slovakia, everybody was asking about how it would feel to see my son playing for the national team,” said the 46-year-old Chamonix native. “I hadn’t really thought about it before, but when I saw him in the French jersey, coming out on the ice, it was a little bit emotional for me. I’m proud that he can be part of the World Championship in the elite division. I wore the jersey so many times with a lot of pride for my country.”
“It’s great to grow up with a dad who has both NHL and IIHF experience,” added Tim. “He was hard on me, but now he can lay back a little bit. He knows what I have to do to get to the next level, and now it’s up to me.”
Tim was born in 1994 in St. Louis, where Philippe played 144 career NHL games for the Blues and scored 41 career points – still the highest totals ever for any French skater. Tim learned the game in Lugano, Switzerland, where his father was playing for many years. But was it always obvious that he would pursue it professionally?
“Since he was a kid, I could feel that he had a passion for hockey and this desire to succeed,” said Philippe. “You don’t know what his quality is going to be as a hockey player at that point, but I knew he wanted to be a hockey player. He’s really mature now and has a good professional attitude.”
At 17, Tim elected to go to North America to continue his career. It’s an option that often doesn’t pan out out when young European players aren’t physically or mentally ready to leave their homes. But at least so far, Tim feels it’s been right for him.
“I follow Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bärtschi quite closely,” said Tim. “I call those guys my idols. They were superstars in Swiss junior hockey, and I always compare myself to those guys. I wanted to be as good as they were in Switzerland. When Niederreiter moved [to North America] at age 17 and I was only 15, I told my dad: ‘When I get an opportunity to leave the country and play in the CHL, the best junior league in the world, I will try. There are more scouts there and I want to make the NHL one day.’”
He got drafted 64th overall by the Montreal Canadiens last year, and it was probably even more of a thrill for his father, who grew up as a big fan of the 24-time Stanley Cup champion club.
“When I was a kid, some of my uncles offered me all the equipment and the jersey of the Canadiens,” Philippe recalled. “Then while playing in junior in Quebec, I was about half an hour from the rink in Montreal. I went to see the Habs a lot at the time of Mats Näslund and all those guys. So when Tim was drafted, I don’t think he fully realized which organization he was going into. But me, I knew it was one of the biggest. They treat you really well. It’s a really professional organization, and I’m happy he’s there. They’re going to develop him well. With the new staff they have there, they’re doing a great job.”
While Tim has only seen a few videos of his dad’s NHL career, he recognizes some similarities in their style that go beyond playing the same position.
“I’m a little taller than him, probably faster and more skillful,” said Tim, who became a YouTube hit last year with a flashy shootout attempt at the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects Game. “But it’s kind of a similar style. The game has changed a lot, of course, since he played.”
Philippe treasures many memories from his four-year stint with St. Louis, a genuine professional highlight. The team let him go to the hospital to be with his wife when Tim, his eldest son, was born. Rivalry games with the Hawks at the old Chicago Stadium and the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens also stand out for him. Although he’s based in Europe, he enjoys bumping into old North American teammates like the Sutters or Phil Housley at events such as the NHL draft and the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
And he’s amused when he sees Brendan Shanahan as the NHL’s minister of justice. In 1993/1994, Bozon’s only full 80-game NHL season, “Shanny” led the Blues with 52 goals and 102 points – and also recorded 211 penalty minutes.
“Brendan was not only a goal-scorer, he was also a tough guy,” recalled Philippe. “He went in the corners, in the places where it hurts, and he could sometimes be nasty. He had a lot of character. To see him on the other side now, it’s kind of funny.”
A hockey family spanning three generations: Philippe Bozon as a kid with Alain Bozon, who played World Championships in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Photo: Un siècle de hockey en France
Looking to the future, Philippe is optimistic that not only Tim but also his younger son, 17-year-old Kevin, will be able to play hockey at a high level. Kevin, a forward who is coming up through the Lugano system, potted a goal and five assists for the French U18 team at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A in Asiago, Italy last month. That put him in a tie for fifth place in tournament scoring.
Overall, it’s a picture that has to make Philippe’s father Alain proud too. Alain, a former French national team captain, was inducted into the French Hockey Hall of Fame last year. This family truly takes strength from its roots.
“We come from the mountains,” said Philippe. “We were born in Chamonix and living in the Alps. So our whole family was basically born with hockey sticks in our hands. Even if we tried some other sports, we always had the passion for this game. I didn’t necessarily push my kids to do hockey specifically. I wanted them to do sports for sure. I encouraged them to play tennis or golf too, whatever they wanted. But you could feel they had the passion for hockey. Both of my sons play hockey, and my dad is also happy to see them playing. The tradition is continuing.”