Bonvie nearing the end of the road

by Brian Coe || AHL On The Beat Archive

bonvie-wbs_200.jpgThe Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ Dennis Bonvie, who has announced he will retire at the end of the 2007-08 season, has played in more than 860 games in the American Hockey League during his career, the 15th highest total in the league’s 72-year history.

But did you know he’s also appeared in 92 National Hockey League games? He broke in with the Edmonton Oilers at the end of the 1994-95 season, making his NHL debut on Apr. 19.

“I was in warm-up two weeks, I got called up from Cape Breton when the [AHL] year was out,” said Bonvie. “And I was just going in warm-up every night. But it was great, I was in the NHL.

“Then [head coach] Ronny Low comes in, he says, ‘Kid you’re in, Jason Arnott’s sick tonight’. I was like, ‘Oh man!’ I couldn’t believe it. We were playing the Los Angeles Kings and Wayne Gretzky. I went out there and got a couple of shifts I think. First game in the NHL, unbelievable.”

But his second game – although brief – might be more memorable.

“We’re in Calgary, and it was the last game of the year. I ended up getting in, I was all pumped up, playing the Calgary Flames,” said Bonvie. “Craig Berube was there at the time in Calgary, so I’m out there, I’m all gung ho, I’m going to challenge him.

“And the [referee] comes up to me right after the puck dropped, then went up to our coach, and they had the wrong number down for me [on the official lineup sheet], so all of a sudden I’m ineligible. I couldn’t play, so Ronny Low said. ‘Kid you have to take your gear off you can’t play tonight.’ I was like, ‘Oh God, this isn’t happening to me.’”

Bonvie went on to spend time with the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and the Boston Bruins. It was his stop in Beantown during the 2001-02 season that produced one of the greatest moments in Bonvie’s hockey career – his first and only National Hockey League goal.

“I ended up being on the Island, playing the New York Islanders,” he recalled. “I came down the wing, I got a pass and I just took a shot as hard as I can on net, and it went five-hole on Chris Osgood.

“Benoit Hogue came up to me and he was like, ‘Man what’s wrong with you.’ I was hyperventilating. I was like, ‘I’ve never scored before in the National Hockey League.’ I couldn’t believe it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ He high-fived me there, the boys were all happy.”

Of course, Bonvie’s famous wit didn’t let him down during his goal celebration.

“I go by Osgood and I was like, ‘You should retire, I scored on you, I can’t believe I scored on you,’” he laughed. “But it was great. It was just something I never thought I’d do. You’re always out there getting a shift or two trying to get that goal, but it just doesn’t seem it’s going to happen. That was unbelievable.”

bonvie-cb_200.jpgOne would expect professional hockey’s all-time penalty minutes leader to hold down a spot in the hockey hall of fame. And Bonvie’s name does appear in the hallowed hall in Toronto – but not for his misdeeds.

Bonvie made league history on Jan. 17, 1995, scoring the first goal in the revived AHL All-Star Game in Providence, R.I.

“They had a voting contest, we went through it, the whole league,” Bonvie said in relating how he got named to the Canadian squad as a member of the Cape Breton Oilers. “And I think Todd Marchant won for us and I was second in voting.

“It was the lockout season. And when the lockout ended [in midseason], he went up to Edmonton, I was the next guy in line, so I was going to the All-Star Game. Ralph Intranuovo went too from our team, there were two of us.”

There were more than a few people wondering what the AHL’s leader in penalty minutes (he had more than 200 at the time of the game, as opposed to just two goals and seven points) was doing in an All-Star Game.

“I went there and everything was good, but they were like … you could kind of feel it, sense it … ‘What’s this guy doing here? He’s a tough guy, he has eight points, this is an all-star game’.

“So I went out, first or second shift, I got a pass from Ralph on the blue line and went in, [Goaltender] Scott Bailey went back and – five hole – I scored. I came back to the bench, high fiving, I was ecstatic. I scored in the all-star game, this is great.

“And [the referee] came up to me and said ‘Give me your stick’. I was like, ‘No no man, I’m hot, you’re not getting my stick, you can’t have my stick’. They’re like, ‘No it’s for the Hockey Hall of Fame, we’re taking the puck and your stick.’

“’Yeah, here you go. Whatever you need!’ For me, being from a small town, I didn’t know any of that stuff, I was just happy to be part of it, and all of a sudden my stick’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s pretty special.”

Of course, no discussion of Dennis Bonvie’s hockey career is complete without talking about fighting. It’s likely that he’s dropped his gloves more times than anyone to every pull on a sweater.

His list of opponents reads like a who’s who of famous enforcers Georges Laraque, Francois Leroux, Sandy McCarthy, Krzysztof Oliwa, Rob Ray, Tony Twist and Peter Worrell are just some of the more than 200 opponents with whom Bonvie has come to blows.

bonvie-bng_200.jpg“It’s hard to say my toughest fight, because every one’s been tough,” he said. “I’ve had a couple big ones. Probably my biggest one to start out was against Bob Probert.

“I remember sitting with my dad at home, and the [1995] preseason schedule came out, Edmonton was playing Chicago, and that was when he just went there. And I said ‘I’m going to fight him, Dad… I’m going to fight him. I’m going to do my best, if I’m in the lineup, I’m going to fight him.’”

At the time, Probert was the heavyweight in the NHL. When his career came to an end after 16 seasons, he had racked up 3,300 penalty minutes, which ranks fifth on the league’s all-time list.

“I remember flying in that night, we were flying in to Chicago, and [my teammates] were like, ‘You’re not going to fight Probert?’ I’m like, ‘You got that right, I’m fighting him. If he’ll fight me, I’ll fight him.’ Because that’s what I needed to do, I needed to get some notoriety.

“I went out to him on the draw and said, ‘Hey Proby.’ He looked at me and I said, ‘You’re either going to make me or break me, pal, just give me a shot, I just want a shot.’ And he said ‘OK, kid’. I think we fought for over a minute, it was a great fight. And they came in a week later, Chicago came into Edmonton, I ended up fighting Darin Kimble and did really good, and then I ended up fighting [Probert] again, because they were all waiting for it. It seemed to go longer the second time. That made some, gave me some headlines and made a name for myself somewhat.”

Bonvie was also thrilled to get some kudos from a Canadian broadcasting legend later that season.

“I think it was that year, I was fighting a few times, I wasn’t getting in the lineup as much as I would have liked. But Hockey Night in Canada and Don Cherry were there in the morning [for a game between Edmonton and Toronto]. He came [into the Oilers locker room] and he said ‘Hey kid,’ and he always had his thumbs up, we got [a picture of] our thumbs up together, him and I.

“And Tie Domi was, I think he was hurt to start the year and he was just coming back. I got out on the draw with him and I squared off with him. And I ended up splitting him open for a few stitches on the eye. And he kind of beat me at the end, he flipped me down, looked like he beat me. But it was a big thing for me, on Hockey Night in Canada and from a small town, end up fighting Tie Domi. Is there a bigger stage for me in what I’m trying to do, and trying to accomplish than that?”

Perhaps Bonvie’s most memorable throw down for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton fans came when their favorite fighter returned to the Wachovia Arena as a member of the Hershey Bears on Mar. 30, 2005. It was during that game that a near legendary fight between Bonvie and Ryan VandenBussche broke out.

“It was funny, I knew we were going to fight because we fought the week before,” Bonvie remembered. “I know Ryan pretty good. We were down 2-1 at Hershey and at the start of the third I kind of went ‘Let’s go’. We kind of got into it, and I kind of had the upper hand on him, I got him pretty good.

bonvie-her_200.jpg“I just knew he was coming at me, we played a week later and I got that feeling. He was looking down the bench waiting to see when I was coming out. And I knew what was going to happen, and he came out and said ‘We’re going’, and I said ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’”

That fight lasted every bit of two minutes, with neither player giving way during the tussle.

“He’s one of those guys, he just won’t quit, he’s a pit bull,” Bonvie said. “In that fight, I asked him a couple of times, ‘You done?’ And he was like, ‘No, no, no, we’re going to keep going.’ And it escalated into what it was. I thought a couple of times it was going to stop, and it kept going and going. That was good. You don’t want too many of those, but once in a while, it was good for the fans and good for the rink.”

Bonvie has recorded 84 goals during his AHL career, with 16 of those coming while wearing the Penguins’ crest. And a few of those – like the first overtime tally in team history – have been game winners.

His last goal on Wachovia Arena ice didn’t win the game, but it did help the Penguins stage one of the biggest comebacks in team history.

It was just a few weeks ago, on Mar. 28, when the Hamilton Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 26 minutes of play. What looked like a potential rout by a struggling team (Hamilton had dropped nine in a row at that point) took another path when Bonvie got a puck in the slot, spun and beat netminder Cedrick Desjardins low on his left side.

The goal ignited the Pens, who scored three times in the third period to force extra time, before posting a 5-4 win in a shootout.

The goal was Bonvie’s second of the season, and possibly the final tally of his professional career.

“I was lucky enough that I was put in that opportunity, got a shot on net and scored one,” he said afterward. “It kick-started us, which was the main thing.”

Knowing that this might have been his final goal, Bonvie made sure to get his hands on the puck for posterity.

“I kept the puck and the stick, and I’ll probably keep them for my son [Rhys] and daughter [Davyn].”

Bonvie often brings his son to the team locker room, where he regularly wheels around with a pint-sized stick and puck. Could four-year old Rhys be the next generation of Bonvie’s to lace up the skates for the Penguins? His father thinks it’s a possibility.

“He says he is [going to be a hockey player],” said Bonvie. “He says he’s going to score. He tells me not to fight, so that’s a great thing. That’s a great thing. Maybe he scores some goals, I don’t know.”