Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian, 22, is the first player of Armenian heritage to play in the NHL.
Aside from his notoriety as one of Winnipeg’s prized home-grown products (drafted third in 2008 behind only Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty), the 22-year-old Bogosian is perhaps best known for being the first player of Armenian heritage to play in the National Hockey League.
Although Armenia is a mountainous country (a former republic in the defunct Soviet Union) and endures long, cold winters, the sport of hockey has been slow to develop there. It took an American-born player like Bogosian to break the barrier, so to speak.
Zach’s great-grandfather, Stephen, escaped Armenia in the early 1920s to get away from the genocide perpetrated on his countrymen. Some 1 million Armenians reportedly lost their lives during this holocaust.
The Bogosian family wound up in upstate New York, and Zach, a natural athlete at a young age, had a decision to make early on. He could follow his dad into American football (Ike was co-captain of the 1980-81 Syracuse University teams that featured future New York Giants running back and Super Bowl champ Joe Morris) or pursue a career in hockey.
Hockey won and Zach never looked back. And he’s proud of the fact that he’s a bit of a pioneer.
“Yeah, growing up with an Armenian heritage … you know, my grandparents are still pretty hardcore about it,’’ he said. “My great-grandfather came across when the genocide started.
“It’s just a hard-working family from a small town. I mean, if I can do it, anyone can do it. As far as being the first Armenian, obviously I’m very proud of it. But it’s not just on me; it’s on my parents and everyone who helped me throughout my whole career.
“It’s kind of fun to have that (first Armenian) next to your name.’’
As for not following his dad and older brother (Aaron, now playing for the Florida Everblades of the ECHL) into American collegiate sports, the Bogosians have cable TV to thank for that.
Zach grew up watching the Ottawa 67s junior team and that convinced him to eventually play youth hockey north of the border, joining the Peterborough Petes after graduating from Cushing Academy.
Massena is a town of about 12,000 in St. Lawrence County, which also includes former NHLer Mike Hurlbut (N.Y. Rangers, Quebec Nordiques, Buffalo Sabres) among its native sons.
“I played a few tournaments with Nick Palmieri (Utica, N.Y.) for the Syracuse Stars, but Massena is pretty secluded,’’ said Bogosian. “I was never really around anyone (of high hockey caliber) growing up. When I go home, it’s just me and my brother skating together.
“It’s a unique little town; I enjoy going back there in the summertime. I’m just proud to be from there.’’
Like a number of players in the organization, there were some mixed feelings about leaving Atlanta for Winnipeg a couple years ago. On one hand, the Thrashers were moving to a more hockey-crazed environment. On the other, a lot of local ties to Atlanta — from friends to schools to favorite restaurants — had to be broken.
“I’m from upstate New York, so the climate is not too much different,’’ said Bogosian. “(Winnipeg) is a great hockey town and we have great support. Obviously, it’s never easy moving from city to city. But the city welcomed us with open arms. It’s been a great experience so far.’’
The Jets believe they’re on the right track toward contention, with young stars like Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane and, of course, Bogosian, forming a strong nucleus. The team stood 8-9-1 in late February.
“We’ve been together for a few years,’’ he said. “We’ve been through the Atlanta phase and now we’re going through the Winnipeg phase.
“Our core group might seem young, but we have a good mix of veteran guys, too. Any time you’re one of the young guys on a young team, it’s always fun, bringing that energy to the room and learning from the older guys.’’