Grand Plan

North Dakota Star Returns To Help Move Grand Forks Forward

Brandon Bochenski stepped out of the hockey arena and into the political arena when he tossed his hat into the ring to become the mayor of Grand Forks, N.D. And when the final votes were tallied after the June 9 election, the former University of North Dakota hockey player who went on to a 14-year professional career had unseated incumbent mayor Mike Brown.

It was an unexpected career change for the Blaine, Minn., native who hung up the skates in 2019 after playing eight seasons with Barys Astana of the Kontinental Hockey League.

"Part of being an athlete and being a leader is you've got to face the problems and you got to work on them," Bochenski said several days after being sworn into a four-year term.

"I kept complaining about things in town and my wife finally said, 'if you're gonna keep complaining, you better go and do something about it.' And I never thought of myself getting involved in politics or [being] in the political world, but I felt it was a great opportunity to make a difference. You just don't get that many chances in life, so I jumped at it."

Bochenski captured 49.62 percent of the vote (5,663 votes) to oust Brown, who had been Grand Forks' mayor for 20 years.

During his campaign, Bochenski promised to focus on pocketbook issues in this blue-collar community such as slashing taxes, growing the workforce and local economy. To get it done he plans on drawing on the experiences he learned through a lifetime in hockey, which included 156 games with six different NHL teams. He also represented both the U.S. and Kazakhstan at the World Championships.

"Hockey is such a team-oriented sport that you've got everybody's back. We have a city that has about 550 employees now and they need to know that I've got their back," said Bochenski, who finished his KHL as the all-time leading foreign-born scorer. 

"I would say it's leadership, it's team building, it's kind of picking people up and carrying them, it's setting a good example. I was never really a vocal leader. I was a leader that put my head down, went to work and did things the right way and got people to follow me. And I think that type of leadership will be a good leadership style for my new position as mayor."

While his work ethic and vision for the future certainly struck a chord with voters, Bochenski's exploits during his three years at the university also resonated with local hockey fans.

After leading the Blaine Bengals to the state high school class AA championship in 2000, Bochenski joined the Lincoln Stars. After being heavily recruited by several top collegiate programs, he chose the WCHA powerhouse in 2001 and was named to the all-rookie team. During his sophomore year he teamed up with a freshman star named Zach Parise to form one of the top lines in the country. He would lead the team in goals and points during the next two seasons as UND came close to winning another NCAA title.

"We were ranked No. 1 in the country for the majority of those two years. We just ended up struggling to win that big game," said Bochenski, who along with Parise was named an All-American in 2004. "We had a really good team and some really good players and a lot of good memories."

Bochenski would sign with the Ottawa Senators after the season and begin a hockey odyssey that would include stops in Chicago, Boston, Anaheim, Nashville and Tampa Bay before finding a home in the KHL.

Once he hung up his skates, Bochenski returned to Grand Forks to complete his degree in economics before taking a position with Berkshire Hathaway, working in the area of real estate development. He's managed to stay close to the game coaching his son's youth hockey and baseball teams, but faced with a steep learning curve in his new job he may have to hang up the whistle, at least for the time being.

While many in Grand Forks are excited to see what their new 38-year-old mayor can do to revitalize this proud North Dakota town, there are those who still think of him as the tenacious forward who thrilled capacity crowds inside Ralph Engelstad Arena.

"You don't want to just be thought of as a hockey player because you have a lot of work to do now and you need to be thought of in a different arena, to use a pun," he said. "But it's been kind of interesting because some people still want to talk about the good old days.

"That nostalgia is something that I still enjoy, but the fact that they're also happy to see me as the new mayor is right there at the forefront."

 

Issue: 
2020-08

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