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WORKHORSE FROM WHITEHORSE – Dylan Cozens, left, follows through on a shot against Columbus in Nov. 2021. Cozens registered a goal and an assist in the game and finished with a plus-minus of +2. Photo courtesy of BUFFALO SABRES/BILL WIPPERT

Dylan Cozens looking to improve on breakout season

Whitehorse hockey phenom Dylan Cozens is looking to improve on a breakout season.

By Morris Prokop on May 12, 2023

Whitehorse hockey phenom Dylan Cozens is looking to improve on a breakout season.

The star player is currently spending the off-season in Whitehorse relaxing and enjoying time with his family.

The Star spoke to the 6’3”, 200-pound Buffalo Sabres centre Tuesday.

Cozens, 22, explained how he ended up in Buffalo, who made him the highest Yukon draft pick ever.

(In fact, he was the first Yukoner to be drafted in the first round of the NHL draft. He was also the first Yukoner to be drafted in the first round of the Western Hockey League draft.)

“I got drafted in 2019. And I went to their camp there. But I got sent back to the WHL for a year. I played in Lethbridge for a year and the next year I came in and made the team in Buffalo and have played three full seasons now.”

Cozens was also the first Yukoner to be selected to Canada’s world junior hockey team. He played in the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic, where he tallied two goals and seven assists in seven games en route to winning a gold medal.

“The first year was a great experience, obviously … and we won gold. That was the main goal and we achieved it, so had a lot of fun there,” recalled Cozens.

He followed that up with a co-captaincy at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton. Cozens had an outstanding tournament, leading Canada in scoring and finishing second overall with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists, +11). It wasn’t enough, as Team Canada had to settle for silver following a 2-0 loss to the U.S. in the gold medal game.

TSN announcer Gord Miller made Cozens nickname, the “Workhorse from Whitehorse”, famous during the tourney, although TSN analyst Craig Button is actually credited with coming up with the moniker.

Cozens was also named one of Canada’s top three players in the tournament.

“The second year was the COVID year in the bubble in Edmonton,” related Cozens. “It was tough. Just being locked up and having no fans and obviously not winning gold. So (the) first year was definitely a lot better.”

The Workhorse from Whitehorse also played in the 2022 senior World Championships in Finland, where he racked up seven goals and six assists in 10 games and once again settled for silver.

Cozens has spent three seasons in Buffalo.

“(The) first season was a little tough. It was kind of rock bottom for us in the organization.”

The Sabres had a record of 15-34-7 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season, finishing 31st in the league.

“Since then, we’re just getting better and better,” said Cozens. “And this past year was really good, just a point out of making playoffs. We’re making strides and really going in the right direction. So that’s what matters.”

Buffalo finished with a 42-33-7 record this past season. Had they beaten the Florida Panthers on April 4, they would have been in the playoffs.

“It was definitely frustrating, just being that close and being one win away from making it,” admitted Cozens. “Just looking back on all the games we knew we should have won, and we lost. It’s crazy to look back and know that it was one game that made the difference for us making it or not.

“But nobody expected us to be that close to playoffs. It’s a big thing for us to have been in that race and play important games and we know next year now that playoffs is definitely the goal.”

Cozens had some memorable moments this past season.

“One night that was special was Ryan Miller Night where we honoured him and his career with Buffalo and then scoring the overtime winner, so I think that was one goal I’ll remember forever.”

Ryan Miller is a former goaltender who played with the Sabres from 2002-2014, winning the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) in 2010. He won 284 games for the Sabres and 391 in total during his 18-year career.

Miller was honoured by the team Jan. 19 when the New York Islanders were in town.

Another memorable game for Cozens took place in Buffalo on Feb. 26.

“My first career hat trick against Washington was definitely something that I was happy to achieve,” recalled Cozens.

“And a game I’ll remember forever, too.”

Cozens had a 30-point jump in scoring this year, going from 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) to 68 points (31 goals, 37 assists).

“It felt good for me personally, just to make that jump,” he said. “I always kind of saw myself as a guy who’d be able to produce and score goals. So to increase my points by that much in one year is something that I kind of always expected of myself, but to actually do it, that means a lot to me. And I just want to keep building and getting better every year.”

The humble star attributes his recent success to several people.

“I definitely owe a lot to the coach in Buffalo, Donnie Granato, for believing in me and trusting me as a player and then obviously, just every player that I played with. I got to play with some really good players who helped me out and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”

One of the people he’s been inspired by is teammate Tage Thompson, who has turned into a bonafide star in the league, racking up 94 points (47 goals, 47 assists) this past season. He had tallied 68 points in the previous season after only notching 14 points in 38 games in the 2020-21 season.

“The year before, he had such a big jump in his offensive output, his numbers,” said Cozens. “I think that inspired me to do the same. Just to be able to watch him do that and make that jump and then me follow it, I think it was big for both of us and for the organization. Just watching him do that definitely pushed me to step my game up too.”

One of the lessons Cozens has learned in his three seasons in the league is don’t get too high or too low.

“I just learned there’s gonna be lots of ups and downs in the season. It’s a long season, 82 games. It’s not always gonna go well for the team, for you personally. You’re gonna have rough games, the team’s gonna have rough games and rough stretches and you’ve just got to look through that and just realize that you’re gonna work out of it and not to get too frustrated and down on yourself. Just keep pushing, keep working and you’ll get through it.”

Cozens signed a seven-year, $47.7 million contract extension on Feb. 7.

“It felt really good to be locked up long-term like that,” said Cozens. “I know that I’m going to be in Buffalo for at least the next seven years.”

When it came to celebrating his new contract with a big purchase, Cozens is definitely a Yukoner at heart.

“I bought a nice fishing boat for me and the family to be able to go out on when I come back home. So I’m really excited about that. Hoping to get out on that soon.”

Cozens was asked how he feels about being a role model for young hockey players in the Yukon.

“It’s tough to see myself as that,” he replied. “I just come back here and think of myself as a normal guy. But when I think about it more and just thinking of the kids that look up to me, it’s pretty special to be the guy that was the first one to kind of pave that way a bit. It means a lot to me and you know, I want to be a role model to kids up here. I want to show kids that even if we come from a smaller town up here that you can make it. It’s tough because I don’t really see myself as that but when people tell me that all these kids look up to me, it’s pretty surreal.”

Cozens had some kind words for another young Yukon phenom, Gavin McKenna, who’s good buddies with Cozens’ younger brother Luke.

“I’ve actually been at the gym with him the last few days. I’ve got to work out with him and talk to him a bit. It’s pretty special. Obviously being the first overall pick in the WHL, and the performance he put on when he was playing there.

“He’s an unbelievable talent and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him for sure. So I’m excited to watch his career.”

Regarding the near future, Cozens has decided not to play in the World Championships this year.

“I decided this year it’s probably better for me to take a break and get back and spend some time with my family, as I’ve got a few little minor injuries going on. I thought it’d be best to just let them heal.”

As for his goals for next season, Cozens said, “For me personally, I just want to improve on last year. I was really happy with my season I had personally, but I just want to keep building and getting better and improve all parts of my game.

“Team-wise, I think playoffs is the goal and if we don’t make playoffs, it’s gonna be a very disappointing season for us.”

Cozens is looking to improve on his game in a few areas.

“I want to keep getting better on face-offs. That’s very important.”

Cozens also listed puck battles along the wall (boards) and puck protection as areas for improvement.

As far as long-term goals go, Cozens said, “Obviously, the main goal that comes to mind is I want to win the Stanley Cup. I mean, that’s everyone’s goal. And that’s something I believe we can achieve in Buffalo and I believe that we will achieve it.

“It’s a matter of time and as long as we keep improving, I think that’s something that we will do as a team.”

– With files from Diego Brisebois-Bourget.

Comments (1)

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Congratulations on May 12, 2023 at 9:43 pm

Keep up the great work, you are inspiration and a role model for all our future stars.

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