Maurin Bouvet’s “Welcome to Alaska” moment came quickly.
Bouvet had reported to the Kenai River Brown Bears from France for the 2014-15 season when he went to the Alaska State Fair with teammates Tyler Andrews, Gustav Berglund and Ben Campbell.
The four were returning to Anchorage when a brilliant late-summer sunset blanketed the sky. Andrews stopped at Point Woronzof and the four soaked it in.
“The sunset was crazy,” said Bouvet, who still has pictures and video on his iPhone to this day. “It was really beautiful.
“Every day in Kenai I see the sunrise and sunset, but this one was really crazy. I will remember that for sure.”
The sunset was just the latest reward for Bouvet, 19, boldly following his dream of getting an American college hockey scholarship across the globe.
The next reward will come in mid-December, when Bouvet returns to Europe, Hungary to be precise, for the International Ice Hockey Federation U20 World Championship Division I Group B.
France will be joined at the tournament by Hungary, Japan, Kazakhstan, Poland and Ukraine.
Bouvet, who will appear in his fifth junior championship for his country, said the French are one of the favorites at the event and need a victory to move up to Division I Group A.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound forward said he will be one of the top-line players for the French.
Bears forward Nick Klishko, a rookie who is being mentored by the veteran Bouvet, said he can see the excitement building in Bouvet’s game.
“He’s really excited,” Klishko said. “I’ve noticed him training a lot harder the last couple of weeks. At the beginning of the season, he trained hard, don’t get me wrong.
“But in the past couple of weeks he has been flying on the ice and working in the gym. He won’t stop talking about it. He can’t wait to go.”
Bouvet, the son of Martine and Sylvain Bouvet of Amiens, France, leaves for Europe on Dec. 7 and also gets a chance to visit family and friends before returning to the United States.
He will be back in action for the Bears today and Saturday at 6:05 p.m. AST at the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild.
“It’s extremely good for our program and a great opportunity for him,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “He’ll also only miss three games, so that is huge for us.”
Bouvet said that hockey is obviously not as popular as soccer in France, but he added the sport has a solid following. He started skating at 3 or 4 years old and then one pivotal day at 5 he discovered hockey.
“A guy came to me and asked me to play hockey, and I never quit,” he said.
Before last season, Bouvet decided to try his luck in America. He attended a showcase in Chicago and ended up on the roster of the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays.
“I would like to have a new experience different than Europe, not only the hockey, but the lifestyle,” he said. “To prove to myself I can live by myself. And, of course, a scholarship.”
Bouvet faced a big challenge when he arrived in Texas.
“It was a big lifestyle change,” he said. “I didn’t speak English at all.
“The first few weeks I was lost with everything that was going on. I got tired very quickly.”
Bouvet said he could understand what was being said in a few weeks, and in six to eight months he could speak serviceable English.
He also had to adjust to a new hockey style.
“There’s more skill and speed in Europe,” he said. “There’s less structure and systems than here.”
He added the game is more physical and intense here. Skill is not enough, not without intensity.
Bouvet had 10 goals and 15 assists in 53 games for the IceRays, who finished 19-31-10 and scored the second-least goals in the North American Hockey League.
Beauparlant decided to trade a second-round pick for Bouvet.
“In that system and for that team, I liked his production,” the coach said. “I figured he would get 40 or 50 points for us, and he’s on track for 40 or more.
“He sees the ice extremely well and slows the game down. I always thought that when he played against us.”
Bouvet, billet son of Tim Navarre, took the move way north in stride.
“I was surprised, but I thought, ‘Why not another big challenge and experience? Why not Alaska?’” he said. “Alaska is a great state. I don’t know too many people who could live in Alaska for six to eight months.”
He has nine goals and seven assists for the Bears in 23 games and has formed a formidable duo with Jack Gessert, who leads the team with 14 goals and 20 points.
“He’s really skilled,” Gessert said. “He knows where everyone is on the ice and he makes simple plays.”
Gessert and Klishko said Bouvet has both a subtle leadership style and sense of humor.
“He uses his play as an example and to be a role model,” Gessert said. “That’s why the kids look up to him.”
Klishko said Bouvet has taught him tons of details about NAHL life, from how much sleep to get to just how hard one has to push in practice.
The rookie has even taken to watching video of Bouvet’s rookie year in Corpus Christi to learn how to adapt to the NAHL.
“He’s kind of a shy guy, and funny in the locker room,” Klishko said. “Everything he says is a sarcastic type remark or something funny. It’s a different type of humor Americans are not used to.”
When Bouvet returns to Alaska from Europe for the second time in mid-January, there will be about eight hours less of daylight than the day of that stunning sunset.
But he’s got a plan for that, too.
“I may take some tan,” he said. “Vitamin D. They don’t have too much sun here.”