The 22-year-old defenseman, then 21, earned his first career call-up to Boston on April 3 of last season following a 15-point, 70-game campaign for Providence. With Boston’s defensive corps partially banged up and others resting for the postseason, that opened the door for management to take a look at the young second-year Bodnarchuk. So, off he went, followed days later by fellow blue-liners Adam McQuaid and Jeff Penner.
For McQuaid and Penner, an NHL recall was hardly old hat, but they’d both been there before. For Bodnarchuk, it was the beginning of a transformation.
“It was a huge experience for me,” said Bodnarchuk of his five games in the NHL. “With the first game, I found out right after a game in Providence and I had a busy travel schedule ahead of me as far as getting to Boston and flying out early, early in the morning to Toronto. So, by the time I got to the rink, I’d been going non-stop and I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it before pregame skate.
“I went out for pregame skate and, come game time, the nerves were definitely jumping all over the place. I thought I did a good job in controlling them but the nerves were definitely flying and the energy level was big, big, big, big time, especially seeing as it was in Toronto, which is a huge hockey hotbed, and the fact that it was Hockey Night in Canada and I knew everyone back home was going to be watching that one.”
Catching up to the speed of the game didn’t take too long.
“The first shift, I just went out there and tried to get my legs under me quick,” he said. “I think I probably banged out a pretty quick shift, got back to the bench and regrouped. I probably chuckled in my head saying, ‘Yeah, I did it. I’m here.’ As the game went on, things really slowed down for me and felt more comfortable.
“Looking all the way to the fifth game I played there, it was a new story. I felt great [in Washington]. I felt really good on the ice, a lot more comfortable. And, just being in the dressing room with the guys, going to dinner with the guys and just being up there hanging out with them, it was just a lot smoother, a lot easier. Just being able to joke with the guys, stuff like that, it helps your confidence level a lot. I think it’s really something you can hold onto and bring into the next year.”
There’s always talk of “next year” until it comes around, and then the focus shifts to the present. With training camp in full swing, it is now “next year” for Bodnarchuk, and it’s going to have to be his biggest year yet.
“Every year is bigger than the last but, for me, I think this is a really big year personally,” said Bodnarchuk, who signed a new one-year, two-way deal with Boston on July 15. “I try not to let the contract aspect of it bugger up the brain but it is in the back of my head and I know what’s at stake this year. Getting a taste [of the NHL] and having it be that big third year, there are a lot of things that point towards, not necessarily me needing a big year, but really fueling my fire and exciting me to go out there.”
Naturally, as Bodnarchuk battles the likes of McQuaid and Nathan McIver, among others, for the role of seventh defenseman, he cannot predict how long it will take to become a full-time NHLer. But, he does know that it takes most people a lot longer than it took him just to get up there and see a stall with their name on it. With that as motivation, he’s not dissuaded by the potential of a return to the minors.
Providence provided Bodnarchuk the opportunity to play in Boston and, if he keeps doing what he did in his first two years, he knows that the big club will call upon him again.
“I think my game’s grown big time and my personality’s grown as a person,” he said. “Providence has really helped me. It’s been a great city to live in and an easy city to adjust to, to live on my own in the pro game. The coaching staff [of Rob Murray and Bruce Cassidy] was great for me and whether I’m in Providence or Boston [in 2010-11], I know it’s gonna be a good time. We’ve got great people on the team and great people surrounding us, both up in Boston and in Providence. If I’m in Providence, I know they’re going to be pushing to help me get to the next level. And, if I’m in the next level, I know I won’t forget where I went through.”