In case you haven’t heard yet, Dylan Cozens is from Whitehorse. You’re going to hear a lot about that between now and the NHL draft, because it’s a pretty good yarn. When Cozens plays his 24th NHL game, he’ll have played more games in the best league in the world than all the other players from Whitehorse combined. It’s cold and isolated there, and when Cozens was 12 years old, he was playing in a men’s league and had his leg broken when a guy twice his weight fell on him.
But that’s not even the most interesting thing about Cozens’ backstory. His parents, now that’s a tale. His mother, Sue Bogle, was born in Jamaica. Who goes from Jamaica to Whitehorse? And trains for marathons throughout the winter in Canada’s far north? His father, Mike, moved from Toronto to Lethbridge to work as an electrician, and after 14 years of doing that, with a wife and three children, he decided to go to law school. He and his wife divorced, and he moved to Whitehorse and met Sue and had three more kids, all of them hockey players. The oldest of Mike’s six children is 40, the youngest 12. Sue is a crown attorney for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and Mike is a territorial court judge who hears criminal cases, none of them being tried by his prosecutor wife. (Mike’s younger brother, Scott, is also a lawyer in Calgary and was co-host of the Canadian Pickers television show.)
Into that mix of humanity is Dylan Cozens, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound combination of size, speed and skill who has an unimpeachable work ethic. Cozens is sure to be a top-five pick in this year’s draft, and the team that selects him will gain a tantalizing prospect. He can play center or right wing and, even though he’s pretty powerful now, there is a lot of room for him to put weight on his frame. But no matter how big he is and how many battles he wins in the corner, he’ll never, ever be able to trade verbal blows with his lawyer mother. “If I get into an argument with her,” Cozens said, “that’s an argument I’m going to lose every time.”
It’s pretty cool just breathing in the fresh air. You start out super cold, and you get going and playing, and you start sweating, and you’re taking your coat off and playing in T-shirts
– Dylan Cozens
There will be a time when Cozens stops being a hockey player from Yukon and just becomes a hockey player in the NHL. But a story that good is hard to shake. It’s not that Whitehorse is a just a small town. After all, there are a lot of guys in the NHL who come from hamlets of 25,000. It’s that the players there are so isolated that it takes a lot to find competition. The nearest city with a minor hockey association is Anchorage, and that’s a 13-hour drive away. Yellowknife is closer as the crow flies, but driving there takes 29 hours. That’s why Mike built a rink in the backyard, where Cozens and his brothers and their friends would regularly play in temperatures ranging from minus-30 to minus-40 Celsius, but if the air was going to freeze your lungs, at least it wasn’t going to clog them. Whitehorse has the lowest recorded pollution rates of any city in the world. “It’s pretty cool just breathing in the fresh air,” Cozens said. “You start out super cold, and you get going and playing, and you start sweating, and you’re taking your coat off and playing in T-shirts.”
As far as league play was concerned, kids who play rep hockey in Whitehorse play the next age group up in the house league. And when you get to bantam, you play against teams in the men’s rec league. At 63, Mark is the oldest player in that league, but he plays in the ‘A’ Division, so he never played against his son, who was a 12-year-old peewee in 2013 and was up playing with the bantam rep team, who played in the men’s league ‘B’ Division. Cozens had just finished playing in a peewee tournament where his Whitehorse Mustangs scored 30 goals and he had points on 28 of them, including seven goals in the 8-0 championship game. A week later Cozens was playing a game when the 5-foot-4, 100-pounder had a partial breakaway and stopped to make a pass, in the process getting accidentally run over by a 200-pound opponent who got tangled with him and fell on his leg. Cozens had to sit out the rest of the season with a broken tibia and fibula, but he also had a six-inch growth spurt while he was healing.
By the time he was 14, Cozens moved to British Columbia to play prep hockey for two years before joining the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. After winning rookie-of-the-year honors last season, Cozens exploded for 34 goals and 84 points in his draft year. After two years playing major junior, Cozens believes he’s ready for the next level. “I’m going to do everything in my power to play in the NHL next year,” he said.
Assuming Jack Hughes goes first overall and Kaapo Kakko goes No. 2, if Cozens fulfills his promise and goes in the top five, he’ll end up in Chicago, Colorado or Los Angeles. Considering where he’s from, he’ll definitely be coming in from the cold.