DENVER – It was about 28 months ago that Zach Bogosian’s hockey career looked like it was at a dead end. The Sabers had no use for the injured plagued defenseman, who was being healthy-scratched and and wouldn’t go to Rochester after clearing waivers.
Then-general manager Jason Botterill terminated the final few months of Bogosian’s contract, opening up some cap space and removing yet another player that coach Ralph Krueger had no use for.
As it turns out, in quite a life twist, Bogosian’s career was far from over.
After not making the playoffs for the first 12 years of his career, Bogosian has had three legitimate Stanley Cup chances in short order. He won one with Tampa Bay in the Edmonton bubble in September 2020, and was part of a Toronto team that frittered away a golden chance in the first round last year against Montreal.
Now Bogosian is back with the Lightning, chasing history while trying to be part of the NHL’s first Cup three-peat in 39 years. The Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche starts here Wednesday night, and it will be Bogosian’s 44th playoff game since he left Buffalo.
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“It’s been great. You learn a lot those first 12 years, too. Don’t think you don’t,” Bogosian, 31, said during a chat with The Buffalo News at Stanley Cup Media Day on Tuesday in Ball Arena. “I look back on some of the years (with the Sabres) that we didn’t really have a chance of even making the playoffs, to go into a team that was a veteran group that knows how to win and really knows how to be a professional organization. It’s a blessing. I’m very lucky.”
That quote sounds like quite a slam on the Sabers, and maybe it is, but it is more a tribute to the culture of the Lightning. During a 15-minute chat, Bogosian made several points that could be construed as veiled references to his turbulent time in Buffalo.
But the fact is that under Tim Murray and Botterill and coaches Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley and Krueger, the Sabers never found their way to create a winning culture. Tampa Bay certainly has that.
“The culture is something that is a big part of the success that not a lot of people get to see, obviously, because it’s behind closed doors,” Bogosian said. “But there’s just a certain feel in the room. You know the guy next to you wants the best for you, you know everyone’s pulling in the same direction.
“And that was very apparent when I first got down here … whether we were going to win or lose, we were going to do it together. And we were all part in the exact same direction. You have guys who are superstars and have Hall of Fame careers going who are doing all the small things, all the little things in the room and outside of the room.”
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This playoff run is just a small part of a super busy time in Bogosian’s life.
After the second period of Game 1 against Florida in the second round, Bogosian was told his wife, Bianca, had gone into labor with their fourth child while at a party with other Lightning wives. She was five weeks early.
His son, Cade Thomas, was born the next day and spent two weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit. Cade came home June 2, and Bianca held him at the glass during warmups prior to Game 3 of the East final against the New York Rangers.
“Everything has been going great there,” said Bogosian, who now has four children under the age of 7. “Tough moments for a while, but he’s doing well.”
The same can be said for Bogosian’s career. He’s a solid third-pair contributor, playing alongside Mikhail Sergachev, a former No. 1 pick who is supremely talented at 23. Bogosian had three goals and five assists in the regular season and has two assists in the playoffs. His role is to be responsible defensively, but he hasn’t been shy about carrying the puck up ice either in recent games.
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“He’s a big strong guy. and he’s always playing so hard,” Sergachev said. “If you go into the corner with him, there’s a small chance you come away with (the puck). He’s so easy to play with, and when you have good communication, it works very well. It’s actually a feel thing with him. He’s not teaching so much as you’re watching. I see when guys want to go around him how he turns with them, gives them a little shot. I see a lot of different techniques that he’s doing, which is good for me.”
Bogosian said the communication on and off the ice is one thing that really stands out about this Lightning team.
“Everyone is willing to listen and accept criticism and be critical of yourself and others,” he said. “And the guys around are not taking it the wrong way. That’s a big part of kind of what we do is we hold each other accountable, hear you say what’s on your mind. And we’re all brothers.”
Bogosian said he has had many heart-to-hearts with old friend Jack Eichel in recent months, and was thrilled to see his longtime friend and former Buffalo captain return to the ice in Las Vegas in February.
“He’s my friend. I want what’s best for him, and it was great to see him get a fresh start with something that he needed,” Bogosian said. “To finally get a chance to go there and get the surgery that he wanted and feel like it’s his own body and have a chance to play hockey again. This summer is going to be huge for him just trying to get back to normal training, and I’m expecting him to have a huge year next year.”
In Buffalo, of course, the locker room culture under Eichel was prickly, at times. Some would accuse Bogosian of causing some of that too. But in Tampa, he’s a complementary player, not one making huge money and being looked at for 20-plus minutes a night. He signed a three-year deal to join the Lightning in July, and he’s only at a cap hit of $850,000 a year. A far cry from the $5.142 million cap hit he saddled the Sabers with for five years after being acquired from Winnipeg.
“Health has a lot to do with this. So does confidence and opportunity,” he said. “You saw it, I went through a lot in Buffalo with injuries, and it’s tough to get back to a top-tier level when you feel like you’re always giving up a little bit of headway. So this has been a fun couple years.
“My role is a little different here. I feel great. Fine wine, right? I take pride in the way we play. I may not be the most offensive player, but I believe in my skating. It’s a fun style of hockey, because we’re physical, strong defensively. But when we have the opportunity to get up the ice, we get the green light. They just believe in everyone here.”