Tysen Dowzak is brutally honest about the impact an injury during one’s draft year can have on the psyche.
“Well, it does kind of mess with your head a bit,” admitted the hulking Kelowna Rockets rookie defenseman.
Dowzak, who packs 225 pounds on a 6’5 frame, has been out of the lineup since Feb. 14 after suffering a knee injury in a freak collision against the Kamloops Blazers.
“I was coming up the wall and had just made a pass to Troy Bodie (EDM),” Dowzak recalled. “A guy came at me and as he was going to hit me, he fell down and his head hit me on the side of the leg. Took my knee out a bit. Suppose it was just sort of a freak accident.”
Following a quick arthroscopic procedure, Dowzak spent a few days on crutches before getting the go ahead to resume light skating. The native of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Dowzak has been working closely with Rockets trainer Scott Hoyer, who has successfully worked veterans Tyler Spurgeon (EDM) and Lauris Darzins (NAS) back into the lineup after serious injuries.
Dowzak, who arrived in Kelowna via the renowned hockey program a Shattuck St. Mary’s in Fairbault, Minnesota, told Hockey’s Future he was adamant that he would not resume skating until the knee was 100 percent.
“There’s no such thing as a set back, just a set up for a come back,” Dowzak quipped. “When I’ve been in the lineup, I feel like things have gone pretty well for me. I’m on the rebound now.
“We have a pretty strong defensive core here, that I can gain some support and guidance from. Guys like Mike Card (BUF) and Kyle Cumiskey (COL). I’ve played with Cumiskey a lot and also with (fellow rookie) Kevin Reinholt. I feel like it’s been a pretty productive year so far.”
It’s been productive enough to include a trip to the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game in Ottawa, where he played as a member of the victorious Team Orr.
“It was really a pretty fun experience,” Dowzak said. “You get to go around and see a bunch of the guys that you normally don’t see. Ran into a few of my buddies from back home. It was a great experience to be coached by Bobby Orr. It was actually a pretty intense game.”
Team Orr defeated Team Cherry, 7-2.
Back in Kelowna, Dowzak, 18, is spending extra time on the ice these days with assistant coach Kim Gellert.
“Tysen has been out about six weeks now,” Gellert confirmed. “We’ve been working on his knee, mostly just straight lines for now. He’s coming along pretty good.
“His size and strength is what we need back there on the blue line,” Gellert continued. “Whether we get him back in the lineup this series against Kootenay, we’re not sure. His absence really changes on our situation. Right now on our club, he’s pretty much a real good No. 4 or 5 defenseman.”
Dowzak has tremendous reach, able to keep opponents to the outside when entering the attacking zone. As his foot speed increases, he will become a more punishing body checker. He has established himself as a player who is comfortable in coming to the aid of his teammates, however, few opponents have come calling this season. Dowzak is the biggest defenseman on the Rockets roster, a physical presence the club hoped would complement their speedy, offensive minded corps. The knee injury has forced the other defensemen to play bigger.
In 43 games this season, Dowzak collected one goal and three assists. He finished the regular season with a +3 rating and 68 penalty minutes. He remains philosophical about his situation and his responsibilities.
“The B.C. Division was so tight this year,“ he said. “Every night, every game, it was a tough game. My main focus has been to go out there and have fun and just continue to do the things that have gotten me to this level.”
While attending Shattuck St. Mary’s, Dowzak played with a number of top prospects under coaches Tom Ward and Jonathon Austin, including Angelo Esposito collected 98 points in his rookie season with the Quebec Remparts.
Also at Shattuck were projected top pick Jonathon Toews, who won a gold medal as the youngest member of Team Canada at the WJC and Edmonton Oilers draft choice, Taylor Chorney. Both Chorney and Toews play at the University of North Dakota and will skate with the Fighting Sioux in Milwaukee at the Frozen Four NCAA hockey championship in April.
In recent years, the Rockets have developed defensemen who have moved on to professional careers, including Scott Hannah (SJ) and Shea Weber (NAS). Former Rockets captain and defenseman Gavin McLeod has won consecutive CIS national championships with the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
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