Yukon's favourite hockey star, Dylan Cozens, is looking back on his first season in the NHL — which was shortened by the pandemic, and made even more unusual by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and weeks in quarantine.
"It didn't go how I pictured my first NHL [season] to go. You know, with COVID, and being pretty much in a bubble the whole year," Cozens said.
"But at the same time, I was so grateful to be playing in the NHL."
Cozens grew up in Whitehorse and was a first-round draft pick for the Buffalo Sabres. The team didn't fare too well this season, but Cozens called his rookie year a "big learning experience" — particularly because of his brush with COVID-19.
Cozens said it started when a teammate tested positive for the disease. The rest of the team immediately went into quarantine, he said, and within days a few more had also tested positive — including Cozens.
"It was kind of a shock for me. I definitely didn't expect to have it. I didn't really have any symptoms, so I was not expecting to get that call," he recalled.
"I was lucky — I didn't really deal with too much, too many symptoms."
Still, he said, it was a setback for the team.
"We never really found our stride again after that."
'I want to step up'
Now Cozens is focused on how to make the most of the off-season, to come back stronger next season. This year was about "getting my feet wet in the league," he said, and next season he's eager to make his mark.
"It's going to be a big year for me. I want to step up and prove that I can be, you know, a good player in this league," he said.
Cozens is spending the off-season in Buffalo for now, waiting for a good time to come back to Canada for a visit. He said Buffalo is "pretty open," so he can get out and do stuff. He's taking things "week-by-week," he said.
He also hopes to stay in Buffalo for the long-term, as a player.
"I want to be part of the solution here. I want to win in Buffalo. And I want to be, you know, one of the guys that helps bring this team to success. So you know, I would love to be here for a long time."
Yukon, however, is still home — and Cozens said he still loves being asked about where he comes from.
"I'll never get tired of that, and I'm so proud to represent the Yukon and be from there."