It’s a dilemma faced by Canadian hockey families every season, and for most it’s not an easy decision.
Does a young player stay home and return to a familiar minor hockey association, familiar coaches and familiar teammates, or leave in search of greener pastures, with hopes of attracting attention from scouts and improving his skills?
For Dylan Cozens and his family, it was a no brainer.
Although the majority of parents Michael Cozens and Susan Bogle talked to froze at the idea of sending their 14-year-old son away to a strange city, Michael and Susan had no such thoughts.
“We knew Dylan wanted it,” Michael, a Territorial Court judge, says. “How could we hold him back?”
Although it was a difficult decision filled with unknowns, it was clear to them their son had a drive and a desire to better himself as a hockey player. The lack of competition in Whitehorse, Yukon, and the upcoming WHL Bantam Draft meant he wouldn’t be able to do that at home.
“Once you got to a certain level we had to play against a men’s team, so it was definitely different,” Cozens says of minor hockey in the north. “I wanted to expose myself to scouts, and I knew that moving away would improve my hockey skills. I saw it as something I needed to do.”
With the full support of his family, Cozens headed south to Tsawwassen, B.C., and the Delta Hockey Academy, a member of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.
While most of Dylan’s concerns revolved around hockey – would his skills match those of his teammates and the league? – his mother’s concerns spread much wider. Would he fit in at school? Would he come home and be the same? She would have to send her son to live with a strange family, and miss out on a portion of him growing up.
For Susan, though, the potential reward of Dylan harnessing his passion was well worth the risks. “We would never have the ‘what ifs,’” she says. “We would just give it a try.”
Cozens fit in seamlessly on the ice, finishing second in team scoring with 31 points in 25 games and helping Delta reach the semifinals of the Bantam Prep playoffs before he was selected 19th overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, the highest a Yukon-born player has ever gone.
He moved onto Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C., last season and was even better – he led Yale in scoring and co-led the Midget Prep division with 57 points in 30 games.
Now, he has joined five of his Yale teammates at Canada’s national under-17 development camp, showcasing his skills alongside 110 of the very best 2001-born players in the country.
It is an invite he may not have received if he had decided to continue his hockey career in Whitehorse.
There’s no question, though, that Cozens made the best decision for him and his future, and the hope is he will be a trailblazer of sorts for northern hockey – a high-level player who works hard, follows their dreams and takes risks. The only difference is that maybe someday they will not have to travel to do those things.
Steps are being taken in Whitehorse; the Yukon Rivermen will begin play this fall as a Bantam Tier 1 team in the B.C. Hockey Zone Program, bringing together players from the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alaska and northern British Columbia to face off against elite competition.
It’s just one team, but it is a step in the right direction in keeping players like Cozens at home to develop.
But tough decisions will still have to be made. Despite the risks, the fears and the uncertainty involved in such a transition, there will always be players who, if they want to be challenged and exposed to different experiences, will have to go find them.
Cozens’ advice to those players? “If you work hard, get out there and you can do it.”