MANCHESTER -- IF YOU’RE a defenseman in the Los Angeles Kings organization, patience is a must.
The Kings are deep on the blue line and call-ups at the defenseman position are rare. Sticking around after you’re called up is even more rare. But chances do come, and when they do, you need to be ready. Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov can testify.
Sixth-year pro Andrew Bodnarchuk knows this.
“It’s motivation more than anything. It’s one of those things where you want to be playing your best hockey if the opportunity is there. It’s not something you get frustrated about,” Bodnarchuk said. “There’s lots of guys that can step up and play in the NHL on our team right now. We’ve got a skilled group. It’s a matter of making sure you’re consistent and when you get the call or the chance, you’re ready to go. It’s a matter of bearing down every day and being ready when it comes.”
Bodnarchuk has quietly and steadily gone about his job with the Manchester Monarchs this season. His game isn’t flashy, but if you’re paying attention when he’s on the ice, you know it is effective.
A fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2006, Bodnarchuk is tied with Fredrick Claesson of Binghamton for second in the AHL in plus-minus rating with a plus-30. Only Bodnarchuk’s Manchester defensive partner, Vinny LoVerde, is better at plus-33. Bodnarchuk has also been a warrior, playing in all but one game this season.
“Bods has been pretty solid for us. His plus-minus indicates that,” Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. “He teamed up with Vinny LoVerde and it’s been one of our better units out there. They log a lot of ice.”
Offensively, Bodnarchuk has already equaled last year’s points total of 20 on five goals and 15 assists, a career high. He has the exact same numbers this season, though most of his points came earlier in the year.
“I don’t think my game has changed a whole lot. Early in the year when we were generating good point shots or getting good looks from the point, we were getting rebounds put in. If you look game after game, there’s opportunities that are coming from me and Vinny’s sticks that just aren’t getting to the back of the net,” Bodnarchuk said. “We’re just not getting the rebounds or the chances, not the finish we had at the start of the year. It’s not something we’re worried about. Offense is a plus for me and Vinny and when our defensive game is sound, it’s just a bonus.”
On both ends of the ice, Morris wants to see Bodnarchuk play a more instinctive game rather than over-thinking too much.
“I think the key for him is to continue to simplify his game and make the most obvious play,” Morris said. “I think sometimes guys try to do more and they get in trouble and that’s been our message to Andrew. Just make the most obvious play there is. He’s a strong skater, he can be physical, he can scrap. Sometimes it’s just the easiest, most logical play is the one that’s going to elevate your game to the next level.”
Bodnarchuk has had a small taste of the next level. He played three seasons with the Providence Bruins, getting into five games with the Boston Bruins in 2010. This is his second season in Manchester but he has yet to suit up for L.A.
“I feel like I’ve had a great year and played to my potential in the role I wanted to play,” Bodnarchuk said. “It’s just a matter of staying patient and waiting for that shot. You hear guys say that over and over, but I definitely feel ready if that opportunity comes.”
One area where Bodnarchuk’s game has grown is his leadership. One of the alternate captains in Manchester, Bodnarchuk joins captain Andrew Campbell and NHL veteran Jeff Schultz as a trio of leaders on the blue line.
“The vocal part of my game is adding each year. I’ve never been an overly ‘rah-rah’ guy. I just lead by example and my daily routine. We’ve got a few guys that are like that,” Bodnarchuk said. “We are a younger team, for sure. I think Manchester has always been a prospects-first type of team. They don’t really bring in a lot of veteran guys. It’s my sixth year, but I am only 25. It’s a matter of coming in every day and treating it like a job and being ready to go.”
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.