Brandon native David Bonk, foreground, has travelled far and wide to play hockey, landing in Japan last season.
Hockey has taken Brandon’s Dave Bonk around the world and back again.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound centre just finished playing his eighth season as a professional — a journey that has seen him play in leagues in North America, Europe and most recently in Japan for the Nikko Icebucks in the Asia League.
"It was a fun year for me," Bonk said. "I got to play a bunch and we played a very run-and-gun style, so it was a lot of fun. We had the best offence in the league, which is a lot of fun to play as a forward."
The former Brandon Midget AAA Wheat King was an offensive juggernaut for the Icebucks this year, amassing 25 goals and 42 assists in 36 regular season games. He put up another five goals and five assists in nine playoff games en route to helping the Icebucks make the championship final.
Japan isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind when talking hockey, but Bonk said the country and region has really embraced the game.
"We had great fans," Bonk said. "The guys are very skilled, fast and technically they are really good, but they lack the level of coaching from such a young age and the exposure that we get in Canada."
Travelling to the "Land of the Rising Sun" also reunited Bonk with a former teammate — goalie Yataka Fukufuji, who became the first Japanese player to play in the National Hockey League. The relationship Bonk cultivated with Fukufuji and head coach Mark Pederson played a big role in helping him get acclimated to his new settings.
"It was tough because it is kind of isolating when not very many people speak English, but the people were very hospitable and took great care of us," Bonk said.
"Us" refers to Bonk’s wife, Lane, who he met playing hockey for Northern Michigan University in the NCAA, and Vesper, the couple’s 19-month-old daughter. Bonk admitted being so far away from the comforts of home in a new country was tough on the family, in the beginning.
"It’s even more isolating for her, whereas, I go somewhere and I get 20 buddies right away," Bonk said. "(Lane) sacrifices a lot and I appreciate that."
Once the family got their feet under them, Bonk said it was an experience of a lifetime.
"It’s really cool to live there," Bonk said. "It’s not what you think of when you think of Tokyo. It’s like old Japan where we are and there is a lot of scenery. It’s a great experience and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able making my living doing something I love to do."
The experience was so positive Bonk recently signed a two-year extension to go back and play with the Icebucks. The two-year deal gives the 30-year-old and his family some stability, but he admits he’s starting to eye a future without hockey in it.
"When you play in the minors, eventually you have to draw a line," Bonk said. "I still feel like I’m playing good hockey and we’ve had the chance to travel a lot … I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’ve enjoyed it, but when the change comes I’ll be excited and nervous for it."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 20, 2012