T-birds relying on goaltender Taran Kozun against Kelowna
Goaltender Taran Kozun helped Seattle close out its first-round series against Everett with a shutout. He’ll have to be at his best for the T-birds against Kelowa, the WHL’s best team during the regular season.
Special to The Seattle Times
KENT – If the Seattle Thunderbirds are to have any chance of upsetting the mighty Kelowna Rockets, goaltender Taran Kozun is going to have to continue his magical transformation.
Kozun, who arrived in Kent after a last-second deal before the trading deadline in January, showcased his remarkable resiliency when he shut out the Everett Silvertips to help the T-birds advance through the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The shutout, Kozun’s fifth of the season in 29 games with Seattle, came less than 24 hours after he had given up six goals to the light-scoring Silvertips.
It seems nothing can dent Kozun’s confidence.
“Some nights just aren’t your night, so I just forgot about it,” Kozun said. “I felt I needed a good bounce-back game and didn’t let any in, so it all worked out.”
Almost everything has been working out for Kozun since he left a Kamloops team that won only 14 of 72 regular-season games.
Without much on his résumé to indicate he could be a season-changer for the Thunderbirds, Kozun has turned a good Seattle team into one that is confident it can compete against Kelowna, the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League. The Rockets flirted with the all-time WHL win record before finishing 57-11-0-4 in the regular season, 16 wins and 30 standings points better than Seattle. The Rockets eliminated Tri-City in five games in the opening round.
“We knew (Kozun) was a good goaltender, but we didn't know what his high level could be,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “He had to wait to get his chance, and he’s making the most of it.”
Kozun, 19, hails from Nipawin, Sask., an area known more for diamond mining and moose hunting than goaltending prospects. The area has one set of traffic lights and the population is estimated to be just more than 5,000.
“Coming here has been a huge adjustment,” Kozun said. “We do have streetlights (in Nipawin), but nothing like this. I’m not used to all the traffic and people everywhere, but I can’t really complain. It’s been great.”
Undrafted and unshakable, Kozun, 19, has a calm confidence that is contagious. Konowalchuk, a 14-year NHL veteran for Colorado and Washington, is impressed with Kozun’s attitude.
“He has a natural calm and confidence,” Konowalchuk said. “He doesn’t take things too seriously. He plays because he likes to play the game. He doesn’t look at the big picture, just stays in the moment.”
Between Kamloops and Seattle, Kozun has faced Kelowna six times this season, the highlight a 33-save performance in a 4-1 Seattle win.
|Seattle vs. Kelowna|
|Game 1||Seattle at Kelowna||Thursday, 7:05 p.m.|
|Game 2||Seattle at Kelowna||Saturday, 7:05 p.m.|
|Game 3||Kelowna at Seattle||Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.|
|Game 4||Kelowna at Seattle||Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.|
|Game 5*||Seattle at Kelowna||April 11, 7:05 p.m.|
|Game 6*||Kelowna at Seattle||April 13, 5:05 p.m.|
|Game 7*||Seattle at Kelowna||April 15, 7:05 p.m.|