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Bochenski Finding His Form

by Tris Wykes / Tampa Bay Lightning

When Norfolk Admirals fans learned last summer that the parent Tampa Bay Lightning had signed Brandon Bochenski, many of them rejoiced. They hoped the wing could rekindle the magic he generated during the 2006-07 season, when he put up 33 goals and 66 points in just 35 Admirals games.

Bochenski spent part of that season with the Chicago Blackhawks, who were the Lightning's predecessor as Norfolk's NHL affiliate. He also went on to post 11 goals and 22 points in 31 games with the Boston Bruins that winter after being traded by Chicago for Kris Versteeg. In all, the Minnesota native produced an amazing season that seemed to foretell a big league career.

It hasn't worked out that way yet, with Bochenski spending time with Boston, Anaheim and Nashville last season and producing 13 points in 40 NHL games. The upheaval was certainly a factor, along with those teams trying him out in various roles. Bochenski signed with Tampa Bay in part because he felt the Lightning were an up-and-coming team where he might be a good fit, and because Tampa Bay General Manager Brian Lawton had previously been his agent.

Admirals fans were thrilled. This was the man who had produced a franchise-record point streak of 14 games and helped Norfolk win 22 of its first 25 home games before he was traded to Boston. Attendance soared, in no small part because the top line of Bochenski, Martin St. Pierre and Troy Brouwer lit up the rink like a pinball machine whenever it took to the ice. Twenty-five of Bochenski's Admirals goals that season came from St. Pierre assists and the duo had uncanny chemistry.

In November, 2006, Bochenski scored eight goals in four Admirals games, including a franchise-record four in one contest. He flirted with the AHL leads in scoring and points and was one of Norfolk's four All Star Classic representatives.

But what to make of Bochenski now? The 25-year-old has “only” 12 goals and 29 points in 37 Admirals games. Never mind that his point total is second on the team, Norfolk fans are wondering what happened to their red-hot scorer and the offensive fireworks that lit up Scope arena.

“I'm in a different situation with a different team,” Bochenski said. The 2006-07 Admirals “didn't play very much defense and we didn't have to. We could take more chances because we had a more experienced defense, transitioned better and I was probably better then, too.”

With stellar goaltending from Corey Crawford, that seasoned defensive corps and an offense that scored 301 goals, Bochenski's first Admirals team was indeed a different beast. This season's club has featured  a young defense that's learning as it goes and an offense that's had to overcome the loss of Paul Szczechura, who was its leading scorer when he was recalled by the Lightning.

Still, as the season has progressed, Bochenski has gotten better and so have the Admirals. After scoring three goals in his first 11 games and being a healthy scratch for the next three contests, the veteran has shown improvement and is pushing himself. He and several teammates even arrive at practice a few hours early and take to the ice for low-intensity power skating and weight room workout before going through the scheduled, team drills.

“Older guys like him need to do those things to maintain their sharpness and be aware there are younger guys pushing to take their jobs,” said Norfolk coach Darren Rumble. “He's been getting six, seven shots a game and he's competing, which is all I can ask for. You can't demand results, but you can demand hard work and he's giving me that.”

Said Admirals general manager Mike Butters: “You can't judge him on goals, even though that's his bread and butter. He's been getting chances and I don't worry about a guy unless he goes completely quiet in that area.”

Lawton said before the season that Bochenski figured into his plans as a backup capable of filling a role among Tampa Bay's top six forwards. But Bochenski can't be sure his chance to do so this season may have already come and gone.

“If I would have played better at the beginning of the season, I probably would have already been up,” said Bochenski, who is rated minus-16. “Unfortunately, I wasn't playing my best hockey at the time they needed somebody. All I can do is focus on my game and hope I get a shot before the end of the season.”

Bochenski's contract runs through next season, when a “one way” clause kicks in that will pay him his NHL salary regardless of whether he's in that league or back with Norfolk. The Admirals' assistant captain said he isn't thinking that far ahead, just on what can be done to help his club stay in playoff contention.

“We can put together a winning team but we're going to have to do it a different way than when I was here before,” Bochenski said. “When the puck's not going in and the wins aren't coming, you have to go back to basics.”

Bochenski shoots... and scores! Admirals fans are hoping to cheer that basic equation again and again in the New Year.

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