Taran Kozun has flourished since joining the T-Birds at the trade deadline (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
As the WHL Trade deadline was winding down in January, it was beginning to look like the Thunderbirds were not going to make any moves. After all, they had already made several trades during the year and many thought that they were going to go with the roster they had.
However, just before the deadline expired, the Kamloops Blazers announced that they had made a deal but waited to announce the details. Those details turned out to be a trade that sent goalie Taran Kozun to Seattle for Justin Myles, Austin Douglas and a fourth-round pick.
It was a trade that didn't garner a great deal of attention in WHL media circles, but it just might be the biggest deal of the season. For Kozun, the deal came as a surprise.
"I was pretty surprised," he said. "I wasn't expecting to get moved at all. Even looking at some Twitter feeds and stuff I was never really on the rumor mill or anything. I was just expecting to be there (Kamloops) for the year and start over again next year and hopefully get that team to the playoffs. ... I'm happy to be here."
Seattle is happy to have him as well.
His T-Birds tenure started with a bang, as he recorded two consecutive shutouts and really hasn't looked back since then. In the 19 games he has worn a T-Birds sweater, his record is 13-5-0-1 and includes four shutouts. He has a goals-against-average of 1.81 and an impressive save percentage of .943.
As well as Kozun fit in with the T-Birds from the start, you would think he had been preparing for this move all along. He says he didn't really know what to expect and didn't know any of the Seattle players, other than playing against Jaimen Yakubowski in midget.
"I was kind of just shocked that I got traded to Seattle," Kozun said. "But then I kind of looked at the bigger picture and I knew that they had a pretty good team, a good start to the year and they were doing really well. So I was pretty excited to come to this team."
On the ice Kozun plays with a ton of confidence, calmness and the requisite amount of swagger. Off the ice he is all smiles. It a makes sense why as he's gone from the last-place Blazers to a team that is fighting for a top-four seed in the playoffs. He also got to see his first NFL game as he attended the NFC championship game at CenturyLink Field, which he claims was the loudest place he's ever been.
With a new team comes new life and Kozun likes what he's seen in Seattle so far.
"The winning," he said is the best thing about playing in Seattle. "The winning atmosphere we have in the room. All the guys are willing to do whatever it takes to get the two points every night. It's just a great atmosphere to be around and I'll never complain about winning."
Growing up in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Kozun was not always a goalie. He started playing forward but when his older brothers needed someone to stand in the net, he was the guy. At about 12 years old he switched to goalie full time and enjoyed watching guys like Marco Turco, Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury.
When you watch Kozun play you will notice pretty quickly how good he is at handling the puck. When the puck is dumped in the Seattle end he becomes a third defenseman in many ways and helps the T-Birds get the puck back out of their zone. He says his time playing forward may have helped him develop that skill set.
"I think that's a big help," he said. "Just passing the puck and stuff growing up at forward. I always liked shooting the puck, even shooting in the basement so I always practiced. I always wanted to be a good puck handler. There are lots of goalies in the NHL you see like that, so I wanted to be like them."
Kozun goes on to say the key to being a good goalie is pretty simple.
"Just stopping the puck," he said. "You just got to make the first save on everyone, you've got to stop all the ones you should and you've got to make some big saves. You've got to be able to keep your team in the game."
Kozun has kept the T-Birds in every game he has played and feels like a goalie who could easily steal a game or two in the playoffs. With Kamloops he got to see the playoffs, from the bench, as he sat behind then Blazers goalie Cole Cheveldave.
Now as the T-Birds No. 1 goalie, he is looking forward to the postseason.
"I've been watching the last couple of years," he said. "Its been exciting, you can get some nerves out watching. Some games you might think you're going to be in so you've always have to be ready. Being the No. 1 guy where I know I should get the starts, it's exciting, I can't wait for it.
"Once the playoffs come it's do or die, so you've got to bring your A game every night."
The team that he played behind in Kamloops was one that was young and in the middle of a big rebuild. Because of that his numbers were not as good, nor was his record. Playing in Seattle, with a better team, he has excelled and feels that it has a lot to do with the guys in front of him.
"It's huge," he said. "You gain a lot more confidence in yourself. You know the team is going to help you if you let a bad goal in. The whole team will step up more for you and try to get that one back. Even in the room there are a lot of older guys so there's leadership from each and every player, so that's a big help for a team."
Now that he's in Seattle he has been able to achieve some of the goals he had originally set out to achieve when the season stared in Kamloops – with one new one added.
"We'll be in the playoffs so that (goal) will be achieved," Kozun said. "I want to get to the playoffs and do well, finish the season well. My goal right now is probably to try and get the record back to .500, that would be a big year-end goal."
He has a chance to do it. With Kamloops he was saddled with a 5-19-2-1 mark and overall is 18-24-2-2. With seven games left in the season he will need at least six wins and no regulation losses, something that would make the T-Birds pretty happy to help him do.
Kozun is currently one of the 11 19-year-olds on the Seattle roster. Looking ahead to next season the T-Birds will have some very difficult decisions to make as they are only allowed to keep three of those players – all of which have been big contributors. Kozun said he doesn't worry too much about next year and is simply focused on finishing this one strong.
"You kind of look at it every once and a while," he said. "But right now it's more about the team than about yourself. So I'm just playing out this year and see what happens next year, it's up in the air."
The T-Birds still have a bit of work to do this season. They have a six-point lead over fifth-place Spokane and would very much like to stay ahead of the Chiefs and secure home ice for the first round. Beyond that, they would like to make a deep playoff run.
"We just have to play our systems for a full 60 minutes," Kozun said about the playoffs. "As soon as one guy doesn't play a full 60 minutes it's going to be a tough game for everybody else. I feel like we have the size, we have the skill, we have the scorers, we have the defense to keep the pucks out, so we just have to play the full 60 minutes."
Kozun and the T-Birds are back in action this Friday in Portland as they kick of a big three-in-three weekend that will also see them play home games against Everett and Vancouver.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.