When Brandon Bochenski recently dispatched the puck into the Neftekhimik net, he became the top scorer of all the foreign players who have graced the KHL. The American’s account now stands at 149 goals, and it is unlikely we will wait very long before he hits the 150 mark. In his seven seasons at Barys, Brandon has been a model of consistency, invariably hitting 20 or more goals in a season. We are barely a quarter of the way through the current campaign, and the 34-year-old already has 6 under his belt, and while, admittedly, the Astana men are languishing outside the top eight, few would bet against Bochenski’s ruthless efficiency helping the team secure a treasured play-off berth at the end of the regular season.
Brandon has eased seamlessly into life in the Kazakhstan capital, is comfortable with Russian and Kazakh culture, language and traditions, and is always happy to share his views and experiences on a life lived on the other side of the world.
You are now the top scorer of all the League’s Foreign Legion. Do you consider this a historic achievement?
“It’s an awesome feeling! A great honor for me, as this is a top-level hockey League. The history of the KHL is pretty short, so I think the record tally will get higher and higher, but I’m very happy to be one of the first names to appear in this history.”
Did you know about the record beforehand, and was it your main aim?
“Someone told me a couple of games ago that I was approaching this milestone, but I made sure I forgot about it. No, of course I wasn’t focusing on it. The main goal is to help Barys earn points, move up the standings, and qualify for the play-offs. Personal achievements always come second. Hockey is a team game.”
And what is the main mission for this season?
“To do well in the playoffs. This is my seventh year in the League, and the biggest success I’ve had so far is reaching the second round, I want more, much more!”
Are any of your 149 goals special for you, or more memorable?
“Oh, Lord, I don’t know. There are so many that it’s hard to say. Maybe my very first KHL goal, but I confess I have forgotten the opposition. There is one goal I remember very well from my debut season, as it was against Dominik Hasek. We were teammates when I started out in the NHL, at the Ottawa Senators, so I grew up with him, played alongside him, then we both moved across the ocean and I end up scoring against him. It’s quite funny.”
What do you think are the main reasons for the team’s faltering start to the season?
“It was very difficult for the guys, as we had to focus more on preparations for the Olympic qualifying tournament. That was an important task and so we couldn’t concentrate fully on the KHL. Now we have overcome that obstacle, we have no parallel missions, and we can give full attention to our performances in the League. We are gradually finding our game and gathering momentum. Plus, we have a new head coach and have had many changes.”
The previous coach, Andrei Nazarov, was here for quite some time. What is it like having to adapt to a new boss?
“It's always hard when they change the coach, because you have grown used to the previous guy’s methods and demands. We knew what Andrei wanted to see in a Barys performance and we tried to go out and produce it. Now we have a different system, but this is all part of the game. I’ve had six or seven different coaches in my seven years here.”
“What are your early impressions from working with Eduard Zankovets, the new man in charge?
“I think that everything the new coach is doing will do us good. We have started playing much faster and all our lines have grown in confidence. All the indicators at Barys are positive.”
“You’ve been with Barys since 2010. Have any other clubs been knocking on your door?
“Yes, I’ve had offers, usually when it is time to negotiate a new contract, but I have never been interested in going to any other team.”
What is the secret of the chemistry between you, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd?
“I think it’s the endurance of the line that gives us this chemistry, as you call it, because we’ve played together for quite some time. Even in the toughest matches, Dawes, Boyd and I can find some way to score. We just play, with no need to look back because we can sense where the others will be at any given moment. We know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and we try to use all this in our play.”
Dustin Boyd is currently injured and out of the team. Do you keep in touch?
“Of course I do. We're very good friends. He is due to arrive in Astana in mid-November, and I hope that he will already be playing by the beginning of December. We send each other messages of support. The team is following his recovery closely, and he is keeping track of the team’s performances and results.”
Some pundits say that Boyd’s injury is the reason for the team’s disappointing start.
“Yes, many in the press keep asking us about this - losing our center from our first line, and in a preseason friendly. Boyd’s absence leaves a huge gap, and of course this has an effect on the performance of our starting five, and indeed, the team as a whole.”
Your line is crucial to the team’s results. Does this put you under a lot of pressure?
“No, of course not. We don't think about it - we just go out and do our job. But if the second and third lines can continue to improve, then Barys could become a very dangerous team.”
How is your mastery of the Russian and Kazakh languages?
“In Russian I know the basic words and phrases for, “Hi!” “How are you?” “Congratulations on the win,” for ordering a meal in the restaurant, and for telling the taxi driver where to take me. Plus, I know many hockey terms. I’m fine when talking with the Russian guys in the locker room, and we understand one other, although they still laugh when I speak in Russian. I don’t know many words in the Kazakh language because the guys in the team do not converse in it.”
How about some of the customs and traditions in Kazakhstan? Did you find any of them surprising?
“It’s a predictable answer, but eating horse meat seemed very unusual. I know that this is a common theme among journalists. It’s just that we don’t do it in my country, so of course I found it a little strange. And there’s the traditional dish, beshbarmak. which at first seemed a bit strange, but now I’ve become used to it. And I’ve been invited to these ceremonies, cutting the shackles on the legs of a baby (a Kazakh folk custom), and we don’t have this tradition either. It was interesting and a lot of fun taking part in the ritual.”
In 2014 you took Kazakhstan citizenship. What was behind that decision?
“You know, when you play in the same team for a long time, with pretty much the same guys, you regard them as brothers - you feel a native in the team and in the country. And each year, around 90% of the Barys roster turns out for the Kazakhstan national team at the World Championships. For me, a chance to play at such a level only comes around once, so when the opportunity arose and I was invited to play for this country, I thought long and hard and agreed.”
In your dream team, which players would you like as partners in your line?
“If I’m not allowed to choose my regular line-mates from BBD (Bochenski – Boyd – Dawes), then I’d probably select Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Mozyakin.”
Which of your former NHL teams do you still follow?
“I don't have much time now to follow the NHL, but if I do plan to see a game, I’ll watch my home town club, Minnesota Wild. I sometimes watch Chicago’s matches, too, because I like the team’s playing style.”
You had a long career in North America. What are the main differences between the NHL and KHL?
“The style of play. In the KHL you get more time with the puck. in the NHL, the tempo and the style of hockey does not allow you to skate around the boards in possession. If someone passes to you, the idea is not to linger in possession, but take a shot straight away or pass to a teammate who is closing in on goal. Here, you have more space and time and you can wait until you spot the ideal pass.”
Why did you decide to move to the KHL?
“I was a little tired of the NHL style of play and I wanted to test myself in a different League, where I felt that the hockey is closer to my own style. After playing a full season in the KHL, I could not think of a single reason why I would want to return to the NHL.”
And why did you choose Barys?
“When I made it known that I wanted to play in the KHL, Barys was the first team to offer me a contract. All the terms and conditions suited me fine, so I quickly accepted the offer and signed the deal. After that, there was no reason to look at any other offers.”
You have a large family. Are any of them interested in sport?
“Yes, we are all athletes. My two boys love hockey and sometimes I try to teach them a few things, but I somehow doubt that they’ll devote their lives to the game. My daughter prefers swimming, gymnastics and football. The main thing is that they love sport; it is an important part of life in our family.”
“How does Astana suit your family life?
“It suits us very well here, and we can call it our second home. The children are already attending a special school where they study in English. We have no problems here and we have all made a lot of very good friends.”
Have you thought yet about what you will do after you finish playing?
“I am currently studying at the University, in the Financial Management faculty. I might try my hand in the investment field, or maybe become a Finance Manager.”
Do you plan to have a very long career, like that of Jagr, for instance?
“Definitely not that long. With every passing year I think more about the interests of my family and there are many decisions to made with this in mind. I must think about what is best for them, and also think about my health, but while I am fit and happy I will continue to play.”
“In Russia, many players end their career with the words, “I don’t want to deceive hockey.” Do you understand this feeling?
“Hmm. If it means they feel they no longer play at their best level, and are losing pace or technique and therefore don’t think they deserve a place in the team, then yes, I understand. If it starts happening to me, I’ll have to have to think seriously about it. But right now, when everything is fine and I’m playing the best hockey of my career, it doesn’t worry me.”
What ambitions remain for such an accomplished player?
“I have never been a champion... I would really like to win a title and be part of a great team.”
Do you share your experience with young players?
“Of course! Even when young players come to Barys, I try to teach them something more, to help them to play better or to outwit the goaltender. I never refuse any request for help or advice. It's interesting for me because I was once in their place, so I understand how important and useful such help can be.”
“If you were given the chance to turn back the clock, would you have done anything differently?
“No, never. We only get one life and choose one route, and even if I could, I would not want to change a single thing. I have no regrets.
Brandon Bochenski Fact File:
Born April 4, 1982 in Blaine (USA)
Career: Blaine Bengals - 1999-2000, Lincoln Stars - 2000-2001, University of North Dakota – 2001-2004, Binghamton Senators - 2004-2006, Ottawa Senators - 2004-2005, Chicago Blackhawks - 2005-2007, Norfolk Admirals - 2005-2007, Boston Bruins - 2006-2008, Providence Bruins - 2007-2008, Anaheim Ducks - 2007-2008, Nashville Predators - 2007-2008, Norfolk Admirals - 2008-2009, Tampa Bay Lightning - 2009-2010, Barys Astana - 2010-present.
Honors: selected for KHL All-Star Game, season 2011-2012, 2013-2014; highest ever foreign goal scorer in KHL history, KHL top goal scorer, season 2011-2012.