International Ice Hockey Federation

Boychuk turning a new leaf

Boychuk turning a new leaf

Canadian aims to impact KHL with Slovan

Published 12.12.2017 02:12 GMT+10 | Author Juraj Hudak
Boychuk turning a new leaf
Zach Boychuk represented Canada as a junior including winning back-to-back World Junior gold in 2008 and 2009. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Zach Boychuk opened the season in the KHL with the goal to get back to the the NHL but now is aiming for one thing: the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The 28-year-old forward Canadian came to Europe for the first time last year when he played his premiere season in KHL. Despite having a good camp in Arizona, he didn't make the cut with the Coyotes and decided to go to Europe where he started to play for KHL team Sibir Novosibirsk.

“I was hoping to get a contract with Arizona or somewhere in North America. Going to Russia you are not giving up the NHL dream, but I wanted to continue to play hockey for a good amount of years to come and this was a good league for me,” said Boychuk.

Now he is one year older and had a similar start of the season. Again he tried to show his best during the camp in Arizona, but again missed out on a roster spot. His next chance came with another KHL team, this time the Slovak club Slovan Bratislava.

“I was waiting for a contract from Europe. I was in touch with Slovan for more than the month and I decided to sign with them. After a couple of games, a realized it was the good step. The city is very nice, the arena is big and fans here are great.”

After his first steps in a new place, Zach Boychuk's first game came during the trip against Yekaterinburg. Although Slovan lost 3-6, he got his first point in a new team for an assist.

Then there were three more tough games waiting for them. Slovan lost all of them, but Zach Boychuk picked two more points.

“We didn't want to lose those games, but when you get a new coach, you have to learn a new system and stuff like that. We are getting better already. We had good three-day practice at that time and we were ready to win next couple of games.”

And they did it. Slovan was waiting for their peak of the season while they were facing the most popular teams in KHL, Dynamo Moscow, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and SKA Petersburg. Boychuk recalls the reaction of the Slovak hockey fans following the 4-2 upset of the Moscow giants.

“That was one of the reasons why I came here. I played in Bratislava last year with Novosibirsk and I saw they have amazing fans. Now I was on their side. Fans really get into it. I heard all of their chants. Even when they announce the goal scorer first name, fans say the last name. That´s pretty cool,” said Zach Boychuk with a big smile on his face.

After that game, Slovan lost next two ones with Yaroslavl and SKA Petersburg. So far it has been that kind of season for Slovan, one of ups and downs with new coach Eduard Zankovec replacing Milos Riha. Despite the changes on the team, Boychuk has remained positive.

“I think I arrived at a good time as everybody had to get used to a new coach, not just me. We all had to learn everything together which definitely takes some time to get used to the different structure and stuff that we have to do. I am still trying to learn as best as I can and hopefully, we can keep doing better and get into the playoffs.”

The playoffs are now still far away for Slovan, but the team is still fighting for better results. Zach Boychuk should be one of the players to push Slovan to higher places.

“Hopefully I will show my best. In the past, I was much more productive in my AHL career and I believe I make that here too.”

And it looks like Boychuk is doing it. After his twelve games, he has nine points which is solid number for a newcomer. He looks very good on ice and his play seems to be a perfect fit into the formation with Colby Genoway and Lukas Kaspar.

“We have been really good the last couple of games. They are both skilled players with lots of speed. I just keep giving those guys puck and they got good shots. I think that is perfect line combination.”

Although Slovan is the Slovak club, they have a couple of guys who are speaking English. For native Canadian, it was probably a big decision maker to come and play there.

“Sure. That was one of the reasons why I came here. I knew a couple of players from the past,” said Boychuk, who likes the life in the city too.

But what could do the Canadian player in the capital city of Slovakia?

“There are many things to do. When I was seventeen I went to Bratislava to play at th Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup so I knew a couple of places here. Last year I played here with Sibir and I really liked the arena and the city too. It looked like a good place to live and now I find it really is.”

It looks like Zach Boychuk fell for the new place. But his career wasn't always about playing in Europe. He used to be an NHL player starting in 127 games. Is he still thinking about going back?

“We will see. It's questionable. If I would go back, I have to get a one-way contract, which guarantees me a spot in the first team. I am happy for that amount of the games I played in the league. Now I want to achieve it here in the Europe.”

Not playing in NHL this year might be an advantage for Zach Boychuk. After twenty years of Winter Olympics, there won't be any NHL players. That´s why every team will have to pick their players mostly from Europe and the KHL is the best league for that.

“I know that Team Canada called a couple weeks ago. They told me If I played good, I would have a chance to make the team. They have a big list of guys that they're watching closely. I try to play really good and hopefully get a chance to play on the pre-tournament on Spengler Cup. Playing for Canada in the Olympics would be really cool for me.”

 

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