If Hammonds Plains native Andrew Bodnarchuk establishes himself as an NHL star, he’ll likely remember 2014 as the year he made it happen.
The 26-year-old defenceman finished his 2013-14 season with the Manchester Monarchs, the Los Angeles Kings’ farm team, with the best plus/minus rating in the American Hockey League (+43), and the highest points among the Manchester defencemen (8 goals and 24 assists in 73 games).
When the Monarchs’ season ended, the Kings called Bodnarchuk up for the NHL playoffs. As one of the Black Aces (players who are on the roster, practice with the team, and rarely get to play), he trained hard every day, ready to play if someone was injured. He and his fellow Black Aces joined their teammates on the ice to celebrate when the Kings won the Stanley Cup.
His big-league journey hit a delay in September, when Bodnarchuk injured his knee during a corner puck-battle drill during the Kings training camp, starting this season on the injured reserve list.
“Hockey is a great escape from everything else, and I still love it to this day,” says Bodnarchuk in a phone interview with Bedford Magazine. “As many highs as there are playing professional hockey, there’s also lows. You definitely have to have a good group of people supporting you.”
The support network Bodnarchuk talks about runs back to his home town. His Twitter bio says he’s “From God’s land Hammonds Plains, NS.”
“It’s sort of an inside joke,” he laughs. “I play with all types of people from different countries and across Canada. Everyone claims they’re from the best area. I’ve been everywhere around North America, but what Hammonds Plains and Halifax has to offer tops everything. I guess you could say the major memories happened when I was living in Hammonds Plains.”
Originally from Drumheller, Alberta, Bodnarchuk moved to Hammonds Plains when he was a young teen. He started playing with TASA (Tantallon’s minor hockey association) on a team with Brad Marchand and Ryan Hillier, also from Hammonds Plains, who would become close friends. It was around this time Bodnarchuk decided he was ready to take his game to the next level.
Among his experiences that followed was a season with the Dartmouth Subways, three seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads, and four seasons with the Boston Bruins’ organization playing with AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, and as an occasional player for Boston (he played five NHL games). Currently, he is in his third season with the Kings organization.
In 2006, when Bodnarchuk was 17 and chosen by the Bruins, he watched the NHL draft with his parents in Hammonds Plains. “I had a pretty good idea I was going to be drafted but I had absolutely no idea when and to who,” he says. “You’re watching live and usually 30 seconds before the selection is made, the team calls you to let you know you’re being drafted. Usually right after you hang up the phone, they make the announcement. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but an awesome one.”
What made it more exhilarating was that his Hammonds Plains friends were also drafted: Marchand also to Boston and Hillier to the New York Rangers.
Bodnarchuk remembers his first NHL game with the Bruins well. “It was Saturday night in Toronto and it was Hockey Night in Canada,” says Bodnarchuk. “That’s something I’ll never forget. Prior to the game and
‘O Canada’ is going on, a lot of stuff flashes through your mind of what you’ve done to get to that point, who’s helped you, memories of skating on ponds, minor hockey.”
Bodnarchuk recalls how his father Scott—who first laced up his son’s skates at the age of four and coached his teams for his first 10 or so years in hockey—always encouraged without pressuring him.
“The moments I was most proud of Andrew with his hockey career are obviously the day he got drafted, the day he won the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championships for Canada, and I was extremely proud when he was named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League captain for the Canada-Russia Challenge,” Scott says. “Also being captain with the Dartmouth Subways and the Halifax Mooseheads, and assistant captain of Providence and then of Manchester…He was voted one of most loved Mooseheads of all time, so seeing him get his banner up in the Metro Centre was a very proud moment.”
Former Mooseheads defenceman, now actor currently starring in the TV series Bitten, Steve Lund has many memories, including when Bodnarchuk led the team in warm-ups, which often featured a comedic “cross between some kind of Russian traditional dance and some kind of disco”.
He was captain of the Mooseheads when Lund played with the team. “He was a leader that people just loved,” Lund recalls. “He played with a wisdom that a lot of players did not have, especially at that age. There’s still moments to this day where when I’m playing in my rec league, when I get the puck on the point, I’m instantly transferred to a time when I watched Andrew do one of his flashes of genius. I used to be in complete awe with how he was able to create space for himself using his very gifted feet.”
J.P. MacCallum, an Asia League coach who trains hockey players in the Halifax area during the off-season, has been working with Bodnarchuk for the last 13 summers.
“He’s had to deal with some major injuries, like his shoulder that required some serious surgery,” says MacCallum. “Because of his approach to the game, and his training and nutrition, he was able to recover from that and be stronger than ever. Now he’s coming back from another injury and I expect the same.”
MacCallum remains proud of Bodnarchuk’s efforts. “You can see from his statistics that he keeps improving,” MacCallum says. “He’s an athlete, a professional and he takes his job very seriously. He has that trait of being able to bring it out in others, which is exceptional.”
When Bedford Magazine spoke with Bodnarchuk in early November, he was still recovering from his knee injury. Despite the setback, he was optimistic about his prospects.
“Hopefully, as soon as I get healthy, I’ll have another opportunity to go back to L.A.,” Bodnarchuk said. A week later, the L.A. Kings took Bodnarchuk off the injured list and he played his first game of the season with the Monarchs on November 19, 2014, getting three shots in a 5-1 win over Worcester, going -1 with no points.