Ex-Bruin Bochenski finds new life overseas
The puck is going in the net for Brandon Bochenski, and that alone makes life good. The former Bruin, hustled into Boston to help kick-start a sputtering offense during DaveLewis’s one year behind the bench, is now finishing his second season for the Astana Barys in Kazakhstan and recently played in the Kontinental Hockey League’s all-star game.
“The league’s probably not for everyone, but it has been great for me,’’ said the 29-year-old winger, who rides these days with fellow NHL alums Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd. “I can’t complain.
“I’m scoring. They treat me well. They pay on time, and sure, I’d heard all the stories about guys coming over here and not getting paid and stuff. But, really, I think they’re beyond all that.
“For me, this has been the perfect place.’’
So much so that Bochenski is on the verge of signing a three-year extension with Barys (the team logo is a snow leopard). His wife Jenny and 2-year-old daughter just days ago returned to suburban Minneapolis, where Jenny soon will give birth to the couple’s second child. Bochenski will return home for the summer, then the family will be back in Kazahkstan in September for another season, 12 time zones to the east of Prior Lake, Minn.
“I guess you’d say it’s kind of like a mini-Dubai here, from an architecture standpoint, with everything so new,’’ said Bochenski, speaking via phone from his digs in Astana. “Sure, it’s different, very different in some ways. But for us, it’s kind of nice to have a second home, even if it is way out here in Kazakhstan.’’
The KHL pay scale, like its geography, is all over the map. Successful “imports’’ such as Bochenski typically can earn $600,000-$700,000 a year, on par with the NHL’s minimum wage. Given tax breaks and other incentives that are often tossed in (such as an apartment and car), it can be a comfortable harbor for North Americans, especially those such as Bochenski who tried to scratch out a living as a 13th forward at the NHL level and first-liner in the AHL.
“To be honest, sure, I considered trying [the NHL] again after these two years here,’’ said Bochenski, who leads Barys with 20 goals and 43 points in 41 games. “It goes through your mind.
“But my wife and I looked at it, and even though there’s a lot of traveling in the KHL, it meant a lot for us to be in one place, playing for one team.
“I played for six NHL teams in five seasons, and I was up and down from the minors more times than I could count. So to be in one place, with my wife and family, and have the whole cultural experience, too . . . we’re very happy with it.’’
Acquired by the Bruins from Chicago in February 2007 for minor leaguer Kris Versteeg, Bochenski potted 11 goals and collected 22 points in 31 games. For a team that struggled mightily to score, it appeared he had a home in Boston.
He worked in the offseason diligently to add weight and muscle in hopes of becoming a more durable player, only to sacrifice his mobility and scoring touch in the process. After going without a goal in 20 games (0-6-6) under new Bruins coach Claude Julien, he was demoted to Providence (AHL) and later flipped to Anaheim for depth defenseman Shane Hnidy.
“I over-bulked, probably one of the bigger mistakes in my career,’’ said Bochenski, who added 20 pounds in that summer of ’07 to get to a playing weight of 210. “I was trying to turn myself into a player that I wasn’t.
“Here, I’m back to 190 again and I stick with what I’m good at on a bigger surface - play with a little bit more of an edge than a lot of the guys, get to the net and stuff, and try to hold my own with the skating, the passing, and all of what comes with playing on a bigger surface.
“I worked really hard that summer to get bigger, but, hey, it didn’t work for me. If I had it to do over again, obviously, I wouldn’t have done it.’’
Kazakhstan, once part of the Soviet Union, is north of Afghanistan, west of Mongolia, and east of Ukraine. The only familiar fast-food chain in Astana is Kentucky Fried Chicken, which leaves Bochenski, Dawes, and Boyd scurrying for more familiar eats when travel lands them in more Euro-style cities such as Moscow and Riga, Latvia.
“We get to those places, and the imports head straight for Pizza Hut,’’ said Bochenski. “Look out!’’
As for winter weather in landlocked Kazakhstan, it ranges from cold to colder and then coldest.
“Let’s see,’’ said Bochenski, scrolling through his Smartphone for a temperature update. “It’s minus-30 right now, and that’s in Celsius, so I don’t even know what it really is. But trust me, it’s cold.
“Tomorrow’s going to range from minus-26 to minus-42. But the next day’s looking much warmer - it will be between minus-22 to minus-40.’’
It’s way out there. It’s cold. And in many ways it’s foreign. But for Bochenski, it’s where his career finally heated up, and as with all scorers, home is wherever the puck goes in the net.
Deadline has Chiarelli busy
The NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline is fast approaching, and it’s a good bet Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli will be busy the next three weeks. If he follows last year’s M.O., he’ll make his deal(s) days ahead of the cutoff.
The deadline was Feb. 28 last year, and Chiarelli picked off Chris Kelly Feb. 15, then followed with the Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley acquisitions three days later. It shook the suspense out of the process, but it helped make for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Where does he go this time? Keep in mind, Chiarelli in the offseason needed to fill the roles vacated by Mark Recchi (retired), Michael Ryder (UFA, signed by Dallas) and Kaberle (UFA, signed by Carolina and later unloaded on Montreal).
Eight months after the Cup, those vacancies remain, to varying degrees:
■ Recchi. OK, no one was going to fill his fortysomething/respected citizen/distinguished leader role. The thought was maybe Benoit Pouliot and/or Jordan Caron would blossom. Pouliot has been OK at times but disappointing of late. Caron has seen limited action with the varsity. This spot is aching to be filled by 39-year-old Ray Whitney, but with the Coyotes still poking around a playoff spot, there is no telling whether they will unload their No. 1 scorer (43 points). In ’09, Recchi cost the Bruins prospects Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums. Whitney could bring the Coyotes a second-round pick and either a roster player or an A-list prospect. He is a different kind of player, but 36-year-old Vinny Prospal (Columbus) could be valuable here, at a cost of, say, Caron or a second-rounder.
■ Ryder. The good news is that Tyler Seguin has filled his spot among the top six forwards. But that’s the bad news, too, because Seguin was already pegged to be an important player in his sophomore year. The Bruins were looking for Seguin plus the guy who would fill Ryder’s skates. Thus far, no one - other than those dashes of Pouliot, Caron, and Zach Hamill - has done the job. Ryder wasn’t much during the regular season for about 75 percent of his Boston stay, but he added 17 points to last year’s Cup run. Seguin should cover that, but there needs to be more. The fix could be Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu, or Buffalo’s Drew Stafford.
■ Kaberle. Joe Corvo, added from Carolina when Kaberle signed with the Hurricanes for ridiculous money, entering yesterday actually had fewer points (2-17-19) than Kaberle (1-21-22). Corvo shoots a lot, nearly twice as much as Kaberle, but the shots don’t produce much (although he did score yesterday). Hard to find good defensemen at the deadline, so Chiarelli might have to consider Hal Gill (Montreal), Jaro Spacek (Carolina), Steve Staios (Islanders), or even Milan Jurcina (Islanders).
In Toronto, it’s Burke’s move
It took until last week, four-plus months into the season, but the Maple Leafs finally had their projected A-list roster on the ice last week when Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles made it into the lineup. Now we’ll see what GM Brian Burke can pick off prior to the deadline to avoid the franchise’s seventh straight DNQ. Keep in mind, he has added skilled forwards (Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul) and a Robocop defenseman (Dion Phaneuf). The missing piece is the power forward. Which probably makes Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan No. 1 on Burke’s checklist. And maybe Corey Perry No. 1A. A play for either one would mean a package involving both Nazem Kadri and ex-Boston prospect Joe Colborne and then whatever roster talent the Leafs can sacrifice while keeping the acquisition worth the bother. The bet here is that Kessel or Mikhail Grabovski would be Anaheim’s asking price. Trouble is, Grabovski is on target for UFA on July 1, while Kessel still has two years left at a $5.4 million average. Kessel looks to be the key piece.
Howe battles illness
Disheartening to read about Gordie Howe’s battles with dementia. Ex-Bruin Marty Howe to USA Today’s Kevin Allen: “The worst part is there is nothing you can do about it.’’ Howe, 83, has been slipping the last few years, back to when he was caring for his wife Colleen, who died at age 76 in 2009 from Pick’s disease, one form of dementia. According to Marty, his father’s issues worsen in the evening. “When the sun goes down,’’ he said, “something flips the switch.’’ An exercise program has helped, said Marty, along with trying to maintain a sense of humor while dealing with the day-to-day realities of a chronic illness.
Shanahan on the mark
During the All-Star break in Ottawa, Brendan Shanahan was refreshingly honest and blunt in an informal chat with a group of reporters. The league’s director of player safety and chief disciplinarian noted that his overall mantra is, “I’m hoping we’re in the business of changing behavior.’’ And as for those who criticize him for what they believe are the inconsistencies of his rulings, he offered, “Imperfection? I admit to that.’’ Truth is, he continues to do an A-plus job, including the suspensions to Bruins Brad Marchand (five games) and Andrew Ference (three games). Bruins fans were upset when he refused to haul in the Flyers’ Tom Sestito for his high, late hit to Nathan Horton Jan. 22. But Shanahan’s review of the play showed the hit was 0.6 seconds after Horton released the puck, and that the point of contact was to one of Horton’s shoulders, not his head.
The Bruins are at Washington today, and on Wednesday night will be in Buffalo, where speculation persists that the Sabres might unload No. 1 netminder Ryan Miller prior to the trade deadline. Not an outrageous idea, given the performance of Jhonas Enroth, but Miller is only 31, still prime age for an elite stopper. For a club with so little else on the roster, it just doesn’t make sense to deal away what may be its greatest asset. I’m not buying it, not with GM Darcy Regier still able to remember what it meant to have Dominik Hasek carrying the Sabres all those years . . . If not for the money the Hurricanes paid him, a Kaberle redux trip to Boston would not be out of the question. But he has two more years left at a total $8.75 million, and no one is taking that deal off Montreal’s hands unless they’re swapping equally overpaid goods . . . If you want some fun, get on Twitter as I did Friday and suggest that the Bruins put together a package around Marchand to bring in P.K. Subban from Montreal. Hysteria from both sides. The hapless Habs are very unlikely to deal Subban, but it’s fun to wonder how he would respond with Claude Julien as his coach and Zdeno Chara his captain. Subban could be an elite, game-changing defenseman, but the Habs have turned into such a gong show that it’s hard to envision his wheels ever getting on the right track up there . . . As of yesterday morning, former Bruin Dennis Wideman ranked fifth among NHL defensemen on the scoring list (9-25-34). Big Money Wides will be a UFA on July 1, and likely will get a bump to $5 million a year off his current cap number of $3.875 million . . . Some club could take a deadline flier on the ever-underperforming winger Dustin Penner, now in the last season of his $4.25 million-a-year deal in Los Angeles. The former Maine Black Bear is 6 feet 4 inches, 240 pounds, and might help a power play. Of course, that’s what the Kings believed when they acquired him from Edmonton at last year’s deadline . . . Former Boston University forward Colin Wilson, 22, relegated to spare part duty (three games) during Nashville’s playoff run (12 games) last season, is playing better with the red-hot Predators (8-2-0 in their last 10 entering last night’s game). Wilson has 10 goals and 28 points in 49 games . . . Last week, Toronto’s Phil Kessel was the sole American among the league’s top 30 scorers. Clearly a government conspiracy . . . Ex-BU Terrier Nick Bonino is getting a little more work as the Ducks’ third-line center. “Good stick, reads the play well,’’ lauded Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau . . . One GM to a defenseman who left his club for a beefy UFA payday a few years ago: “Well, I suggest you use a chunk of that money to buy a big TV - so you can watch us in the playoffs.’’ Two years later, without another sniff at the playoffs, he was out of the NHL for good.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.