After winning Cup with Blues, Bozak wonders if pal Kadri could be next


St. Louis Blues centre Tyler Bozak (21) celebrates with Vladimir Tarasenko (91), of Russia, and Ryan O'Reilly (90) after Bozak scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period in Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference final series Friday, May 17, 2019, in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson / AP)

TORONTO – Tyler Bozak is standing in a strange dressing room in a familiar rink trying to describe what emotions course through your body when you hoist the Stanley Cup.

“A feeling I’ve never felt before. You have kids and stuff, and that’s an unreal feeling, but you always wonder what it would feel like to win it and lift it over your head,” Bozak tells a bundle of reporters who follow the team he left.

“Something you’ve dreamed about your whole life, but a relief mixed with a ton of excitement. It was pretty cool. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it again sometime.”

After a decade of riding the roller-coaster that is being a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where your highs kiss the clouds and your lows are picked apart like waffles, Bozak made out like former linemate Phil Kessel.

He experienced hockey’s glorious pinnacle the very first season after moving on from the team he knew the longest. Now, Bozak wonders if his pal Nazem Kadri, traded to the Colorado Avalanche (2-0) over the summer, could be the next ex-Leaf to strike silver elsewhere.

“It’s kind of a weird trend there. I think Naz is on a pretty good team there in Colorado now. JVR’s on a good team (in Philadelphia). I just always cheer for my good friends and hope for the best for all of them,” Bozak smiles.

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Upon being dealt to the Avalanche, Kadri reached out to Bozak for advice on adapting to a fresh NHL city and only knowing one his entire career.

Bozak, 33, still spends his summers training in Denver, where the undrafted centre attended university and was happy to support his friend.

“I kinda went through the same thing he’s going through now, going to a new team after being in the same spot for such a long time,” Bozak explains. “You get nervous, but there’s really no point. You go to a new team or a new room and the guys are always good guys no matter where you go. So, you fit in right away and everyone makes you feel welcome.”

Few enjoy the kind of welcome Bozak did with the St. Louis Blues, whose steady, workmanlike identity aligns well with Bozak’s two-way dependability.

Slotting in as a third-line centre behind the defensively responsible Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn, Bozak contributed a solid 13 points during a triumphant Blues playoff run that owed much to its depth up the middle of the ice.

While the Bozaks have happily carved out a new niche for themselves in Missouri — Tyler and wife Molly are preparing to welcome their third child in March — the player is grateful that the Blues’ schedule has permitted an extended break in Toronto this week.

Because St. Louis doesn’t play in Ottawa until Thursday, Bozak will be afforded some time to catch up with his former teammates, who rooted for him to win the Cup and sent him congratulatory messages.

“It showed me that they respected me and were happy for me. That means a lot to me. It’s a good feeling,” Bozak says. “You want to be a good teammate. You want to be a guy that you get along with everyone in the room and create those relationships that you can talk to guys even when you’re not on the same team.

“I’m pretty close with Freddie (Andersen) still, so hopefully I’ll get one on him tonight and then go out for dinner with him tomorrow.”

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Bozak admits he was nervous during his first visit to the Scotiabank Arena visitors’ room last October, when he went dash-1 in a 4-1 Blues victory, but he’s grown to appreciate the scaled-back media coverage of Midwest hockey. There, he can go out for toasted ravioli or walk around downtown without being reminded about his career.

“A little more laid-back,” he says. “You kinda get away from the game when you leave the rink, which I think sometimes you need as a player. Kind of leave the rink and you forget about hockey until you have to go to work again. I think that helps.”

That said, Bozak does miss the game-night atmosphere in Toronto, which should be extra jacked Monday as the Cup-hopeful Maple Leafs measure themselves against the reigning champions — a roomful of guys who now know what it feels like to lift the ultimate trophy, even if it’s difficult to describe.

On a day like this, the memories flood back.

“I basically grew up here, you could say. From being a younger guy in the league to having a family, it all happened here,” Bozak says. “It’s a place I hold dear to my heart.”

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