Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Johan Bok moves the puck against the Chippewa Steel on Oct. 5, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Johan Bok moves the puck against the Chippewa Steel on Oct. 5, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Sweden’s Bok makes smooth transition to Alaska

Monday, Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Johan Bok and his teammates hiked just over two miles to Lower Fuller Lake, gaining about 1,300 feet of elevation in the process.

There, beckoning under a blue sky and nestled at the base of Round Mountain, they found a perfect ice sheet 6 to 8 inches thick. In a scene that’s usually more of an Alaska dream than reality, the team practiced for two hours, including a 45-minute game using small goals that had been carried up to the lake.

“It was definitely cool to see the mountains and skate on the clear ice where you could see the bottom of the lake,” Bok said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”

The special practice was just another example of the seamless transition Bok has made coming from Sweden to play for the Bears this season.

“He’s been good for us this year,” Kenai River assistant Dan Bogdan said. “He’s been steady with some offensive production.

“I feel good about putting him out there every night. He knows how to do his job.”

Many times, players from foreign countries face an adjustment period as they deal with new language, food, style of hockey and distance from home. But all the pieces were in place for Bok to quickly adjust to being with the Kenai River Brown Bears, and he’s taken advantage.

Bok, the son of Charlotta and Maths Bok, is from Varnamo, Sweden, a city of 30,000 that is three hours south of Stockholm. Varnamo’s climate, winter darkness and rural nature prepped Bok for Kenai.

“To end up in a place like Alaska and Kenai is pretty awesome,” Bok said. “The nature is like at home, but we don’t have as many mountains.”

Bok, a 20-year-old in his final year of junior eligibility, moved north 45 minutes to Jonkoping to play his Under-15 hockey.

“It’s not hard for me to live so far from home,” Bok said. “I’ve already lived away from home for five years.”

With a firm grasp of English, Bok decided this summer to make the transition to the United States. He said in Sweden, there is not an opportunity to combine hockey and higher education like there is in the United States.

Through a showcase skate put on by a program called College Hockey Sweden, Bok drew the interest of Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich for leadership and skating ability.

“We look at skating speed and skill, especially skating on our Olympic ice sheet,” Bogdan said. “His speed and skill is fairly obvious when he gets on the big ice. It’s pretty hard to get the puck away from him.”

It also didn’t hurt that Bok played a major leadership role in one of his junior seasons in Sweden.

“He doesn’t wear a letter but he’s been a leader for us,” Bogdan said. “We wanted high-character guys and Johan has been one of them.”

Also easing Bok’s transition have been billet parents Mandy and Sam Clyde of Soldotna.

“Mandy made me some meatballs and they were actually pretty good,” Bok said. “I haven’t asked for too much, but they’ve been really nice. They’ve made me feel at home.”

Making such a quick transition to living on the Kenai Peninsula has allowed Bok to devote his energy to refining his game to get the attention of American colleges.

“It’s a bit more physical,” Bok said of the North American Hockey League. “It’s north-south hockey. There’s been some adjustments. I have to make the easy play to keep up with the pace of the game.”

Bok, who has three goals and two assists in 18 games, also is taking advantages of opportunities he didn’t get often in Sweden, like being able to bring the puck up the ice and getting power-play time. He said the Brown Bears have an ideal environment for making improvements to his game.

“If there’s anything I want, I can just go in and ask JP or Dan,” Bok said. “Dan is all for drills to try and improve on what you want.”

With everything clicking, Bogdan said Bok’s decision to come to Alaska should continue to be successful.

“I think he’s going to end up getting a deal done and finding a place that’s a great fit for him,’ Bogdan said.

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