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Bogosian adjusting to life in the NHL

by Dan Rosen
Zach Bogosian is renting a comfortable apartment in downtown Atlanta, not far from Philips Arena. He's even learning how to cook.

On occasion the Atlanta Thrashers rookie defenseman will get out with some teammates, every one of whom is older than the 18-year-old Bogosian. Mainly, though, he spends a lot of his free time talking with his girlfriend and his buddies from home or Peterborough, Ont., where he played junior hockey for two years.

"It's not the glamour life that everyone thought it was going to be," Bogosian told last week.

Not yet, at least.

Even though he is a professional hockey player, realizing the dream if you will, Bogosian is still just a teenager living in a brand new place -- 1,200 miles from his hometown of Massena, N.Y., which is at the tip of New York State, across the river from Ontario.

His dream has forced him to grow up faster than any of his buddies, but Bogosian is on the verge of finding out how much that's going to be worth.

Since rehabbing from a broken leg, an injury that forced him out of the full time lineup for 11 weeks, Bogosian has shown enough flashes to prove why he was worthy of the third pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. He's been so impressive, in fact, that his defensive partner and closest friend on the team, Mathieu Schneider, who is 21 years Bogosian's senior, said he may just be the best of the 2008 class.

"For a guy to step into this League at his age is pretty exceptional, and for that guy to be a defenseman is even more exceptional," Schneider told "I'm prejudiced obviously playing with him, but after watching some of the other top picks this year I think he may be the best player in the draft from last year and that's not a surprise to anyone around here."

Added Atlanta coach John Anderson: "I think he's going to be an All-Star very shortly."

He's not at that level yet, but Bogosian at least feels that he belongs in the NHL now. He has a greater sense of comfort on the ice. He's jumping into the rush, which is what he did best in two seasons with Peterborough, when he had 94 points in 127 games.

"I'm feeling good now, strong, and I'm looking to get better every game," he said. "I'm going to make my fair share of mistakes, but you learn from them. I'm just going to play my style, the style that got me here."

It's the second time this season that Bogosian has felt this good. The first time lasted all of one game plus 52 seconds into his first shift of the next one. He broke his left leg Oct. 28 against Philadelphia when Darroll Powe slammed him into the boards.

That was his eighth professional game and all of a sudden it felt like the dream was dead.

"I think it was harder mentally than it was physically," Bogosian said. "You sit there, you're 18 years old, you dream about it your whole life to play in the NHL and your opportunity is there, and then all of a sudden you are watching from the press box. It's not the greatest feeling in the world."

Bogosian, though, said he doesn't feel the injury set him back.

"Just a bump in the road," he added.

Anderson did call it a setback because he knew Bogosian was starting to come around at that point. He played 16:47, at that time a season-high for ice time, against Boston three nights before the Flyers game and acquitted himself nicely despite a minus-2 rating.

"It was devastating mentally for him," Anderson said.

Bogosian had to spend the next 10 weeks rehabbing the injury. It would be one thing if he had to rehab at home or in Peterborough around some of his friends, but in Atlanta it was, as he said, "pretty boring," especially for an 18-year-old.

"You are used to junior when you are around 22 or 23 guys that pretty much all hang out together," Bogosian said. "I had a best friend in Peterborough, Jack Walchessen, and I hung out with him every minute of the day every day for the whole year. So, it's a little different."

When the Thrashers were on the road, Bogosian treated himself by going to Atlanta Hawks' games with either his girlfriend during her visit or some of the Thrashers' P.R. guys who were not traveling with the team.

"Other than that, it was rehab, workout, more rehab. That was my day," Bogosian said. "It's not really the way you want to spend your days as an 18-year-old. It was a long road back, but I feel good now."

Thanks in large part to the five-game rehab stint he did with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

Bogosian returned to Atlanta's lineup Dec. 31, but he clearly wasn't NHL ready so the Thrashers admitted their mistake and assigned him to Chicago. He played in five games and scored his first professional goal.

"I hadn't scored a goal in an actual game since last year," he said. "I don't care if it was in the AHL. It still feels good."

He felt even better because he was playing close to 30 minutes a night. He played on both the power play and the penalty kill, his specialties last season when he played for the Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.

"They let me play my game," Bogosian said of the Wolves.

Now that he's back healthy and feeling strong, the Thrashers are letting him as well. Bogosian has responded with three goals and two assists.

"When he has the puck he has the green light to go," Anderson said. "We put restrictions on everybody in certain areas of the ice, but for him we told him if he's got the puck and he's got the ice to take it up, go with it."

Schneider said he never pushes Bogosian to use his size, speed and strength to carry the puck because "that's all natural." Instead, he gets in Bogosian's ear about the little things on the defensive end of the ice.

That's the area the rookie said he needs a lot of work at.

"As a defenseman when you come out of junior or college, the biggest lessons you learn are on defense because the offensive stuff is always there," Schneider said. "I was taught how to play defense by Jacques Laperriere in Montreal, one of the best coaches there was, and now I'm trying to give a little bit of that to Zach to make him a solid two-way defenseman."

The lessons are paying off as Bogosian feels more and more like he belongs in the NHL, like he is a professional hockey player.

The dream is being realized, but where is the glamour?

"I'm on my own a lot, but it's good," Bogosian said. "If you're going to play in the NHL, you might as well grow up. It's a lot of growing up to do in one year."

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