King on CHL: Kozun’s heart is in Canada

Brandon Kozun’s birth certificate reads Los Angeles but his heart says Canada.

The veteran forward of the Calgary Hitmen and dual citizen had a tough decision to make recently: try out for the Canadian world junior team or be handed a spot on the American team. In spite of spending the majority of his life south of the border, the 19-year-old chose the former with no guarantees he would be on the Canadian team.

Kozun says he has no regrets about his decision, whether or not he is named to the final 22-man roster that will represent the home country in Saskatchewan.

“I think that obviously a lot of people are looking at my situation and saying, ‘Hey, what’s he doing? He could be playing for the U.S. right now but he’s choosing to play for Canada,'” Kozun said Thursday. “I want to play for Canada. That’s where my heart is and that’s where I’m going to play.”

Kozun began playing hockey at the age of three in Los Angeles, Calif. It was in Los Angeles where his love for hockey began before his family relocated from Hollywood to Calgary when he was 10.

The shifty and elusive forward is proud of his dual citizenship – his father is American, his mother Canadian – but admittedly doesn’t remember much of life in the United States.

“I feel like I’ve lived in Canada basically my entire life,” he said.

Kozun spent the last nine years living in Calgary, where he now stars for the hometown Western Hockey League’s Hitmen. Although he went undrafted in the WHL, the Hitmen added him to their 50-player protected list where he has since become an integral part of the franchise.

He finished second in league scoring last season with 40 goals and 108 points through 72 games. This season Kozun is on pace for another huge campaign offensively with a current league-best 55 points in 30 games.

“Brandon Kozun is obviously a high-end offensive player,” Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray said.

USA Hockey recognized Kozun’s talents and, more importantly, his citizenship, but despite engaging in talks with his country of birth, Kozun had just one choice in mind.

The opportunity to represent Canada on the biggest junior stage in Saskatchewan was too much for the gifted playmaker to overlook.

“It would be huge,” Kozun said of representing Canada in the tournament. “I think it would be a huge honour. I’m going to the camp with an open mind, taking the experience and doing it and hope it works out.”

Kozun will have a familiar face joining him when the 36-man selection camp roster opens on Dec. 12-16 in Regina. His Hitmen teammate, Martin Jones, is one of four goaltenders vying for two spots.

“It helps going to a camp when you know people and going there with Marty is definitely nice,” he said. “It will be a comfortable experience. It will be good.”

Kozun’s situation is not unlike Tyler Myers’ a year ago. The six-foot-eight defenceman – now with the Buffalo Sabres – grew up in Houston before his family moved to the Calgary suburb of DeWinton when he was 12.

Like Kozun, Myers had been offered a spot on the American world junior team but opted to try out for the Canadian squad instead. Feeling the coaching and tutelage his adopted country afforded him in his development, Myers not only made the Canadian team but raised his game to star status.

While Myers remains eligible for this year’s tournament the Sabres opted not to make him available to Hockey Canada.

Kozun and Myers’ decision to represent Canada while holding two passports is bucking the previous trend. Year in and year out, the American squad tends to feature at least one player with Canadian ties. Among those invited to USA Hockey’s 29-man selection camp features two, Ryan Bourque and Philip McRae, whose fathers are Canadian but played in American cities during their National Hockey League careers.

Although Kozun is taking the more difficult route to the IIHF World Junior Championship, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

“I am American and I’m not ashamed of that,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter I want to play for Canada. That’s how I feel and I don’t really care about that (selection) camp, any guarantees or anything like that. I just want to play for Canada.”

“Real credit to Brandon and how much he wants to be a part of our program,” Murray concluded.

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