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Imagine leaving behind everything you’ve ever known, including the people you love, just to chase your dream. Tomahawks defenseman Daniil Bokun doesn’t have to imagine it, he’s living it.
Saying goodbye to family and friends to embrace a different language, culture and climate couldn’t have been easy for the 20 year old from Belarus. Just imagine it for a moment….he is completely alone in a strange country with nothing familiar and comforting to him except for the game he loves. But spend a few minutes with him and he makes his journey sound as natural to him as skating.
“Dan,” as he likes to be called, came to the United States for the first time in the summer for camp with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. He eventually came to the Tomahawks at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine in September, so he’s been in Johnstown just over a month.
An engaging and very personable young man, it’s clear that Dan’s ability to learn some English in Belarus helped him to have a certain level of comfort when he arrived in the U.S. But he admits that it’s the slang that gives him the most trouble. He says that sarcasm is challenging as well.
“Sometimes, I really have to look at someone’s face to figure out if they are serious or joking with me,” he said. Dan considers himself to be Russian and primarily speaks that language, although he can also speak Belarusian. Belarus was a part of the Soviet Union back in the Cold War 1980’s and it borders Russia.
He is amazed and intrigued by the many cultural differences between his home country and the U.S He was able to attend his first ever Friday night high school football game, and discovered he isn’t really a fan of football…”hockey is much better,” he said. In his town, only the wealthy have their own individual homes with yards. Most people, including Dan’s family, live in large apartment buildings in Belarus. Another first that Dan was able to participate in was Trick or Treat night, which he did by dressing up in a black cape and mask and distributed candy in front of his billet house.
“It was fun. There was nowhere to go to ask for candy except up and down the hallways in my building at home, so we never even bothered,” he said.
Dan’s journey to the U.S. has a purpose, one that is always first and foremost on his mind. He strives to make every day count and to make the best out of every situation because to him, he is here for a very important reason. When he was 4 years old, he contracted meningitis and had a 106 degree fever for an entire month. The doctors prepared his parents for the possibility that he might not survive and even if he did, after having such a high fever for so long, he may suffer brain damage.
The fever eventually broke and he made a full recovery. Surviving a serious illness as a child has made him grateful and has given him a lasting perspective. “As I grew, God gave me a big strong body, hockey talent and I am definitely smart. I am not going to waste the chances God gave me. I want to play in the NHL,” he said. He stresses that his ultimate goal is to be able to take care of and provide for his family, especially his two sisters. He explains that if women in Belarus don’t end up marrying well, it is rare for them to have the opportunities to earn a decent living and raise a family. “I’ve got these two girls who are counting on me. I’ve got to be able to take care of them,” he said.
His adoration, devotion and responsibility to his family are always there, every time he takes the ice.
From “Russia”….With Love.