International Ice Hockey Federation

From one eagle to another

From one eagle to another

Bochenski swaps USA for Kazakhstan

Published 08.05.2016 09:43 GMT+3 | Author Andy Potts
From one eagle to another
Brandon Bochenski in his first game for Kazakhstan at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Relocating to Kazakhstan might not be everyone's idea in a hockey career but for Brandon Bochenski playing hockey in Central Asia just feels natural.

Great nightlife, great architecture, but maybe go easy on the horsemeat. That’s how Kazakhstan’s US-born international forward Brandon Bochenski would sum up his adopted home in Astana.

The 34-year-old, a native of Blaine, Minnesota, became a naturalized Kazakh citizen in time to play at this year’s World Championship after completing six seasons in Central Asia with Barys Astana of the KHL. He is joined by two Canadians, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd, who both spent the last five seasons with Barys on a high-scoring North American line.

But Bochenski stands out: his new passport helps him join the select band of players to participate in the World Championship for two different nations after previously representing his birthplace in 2007 – also here in Moscow.

Nine years on, the man whose prolific scoring (341 points in 340 games for Barys) has made him a folk hero among Kazakh fans, is back on the international stage – and has no doubts about swapping the Bald Eagle for the Steppe Eagle that soars across Kazakhstan’s flag.

“It was a surprise for me but it almost feels more natural to be part of the Kazakh team because I know these guys so well,” he said. “When I played with Team USA I knew a lot of those players, but I’ve been playing with this team for six years now and they are my friends, almost my family.”

That sense of continuity from club to country also helps the team step up for international action – something that helped earn a surprise shoot-out win over the Swiss in Kazakhstan’s opening game.

“It definitely helps,” Bochenski added. “We can stay a bit more calm, we needed that in the third after we took the lead and they really stepped on the gas and pressured us but we stuck together and kept it even.”

Six seasons in Astana is a pretty serious endorsement of the Central Asian city as a place to live and work, and it’s no surprise to hear Bochenski highlighting the attractions of the town he and his family have come to call home after years of criss-crossing North America in search of NHL game time.

“I like Astana, it’s a really nice city,” he said. “It’s got some nice buildings, there’s a lot of really good architectural scenery. Maybe it’s not got so much if you’re an outdoorsy type but there’s great nightlife, good restaurants and it’s a fun place to be. I think people would like it.

“I’ll certainly keep coming back as long as I can keep tying up my skates. My family is happy and it’s more than a job now, it’s our home.”

But what about the horses?

“I tend to stay away from the Kazakh cuisine,” he admitted. “Their delicacy is horsemeat so, how can I put this, I don’t partake! But you can find any food you want in town.”

Returning to World Championship action as a senior player gives Bochenski a new perspective on taking part in a major tournament.

“Last time it was nine years ago so I don’t remember too much,” he said of a competition where he posted 2+3=5 points from seven games as the Americans lost out to Finland in a quarter-final shoot-out. “I was pretty young back then, a bit wet behind the ears so I didn’t really take it in when I came here. Being a vet is a whole different feeling, you want to really remember it all this time round.”

A surprise win over Switzerland in game one was certainly memorable; helping Kazakhstan step off the elevator and maintain its top-flight status would surely be unforgettable. Today at 12:15 the Kazakhs will get a different challenge against host Russia.

 

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