Penguins’ Bonvie to retire at season’s end

by Brian Coe ||

Dennis Bonvie, one of the most popular players ever to pull on a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins sweater, announced on Monday that the 2007-08 season will be his last as a professional hockey player.

“This is going to be my last year. This is it,” said Bonvie, 33, from his annual youth hockey camp at the Ice Box in Pittston, Pa. “I’m fortunate that I played one game in one year, and now 15 years later, I’m getting an opportunity to…kind of go out on my own terms. I’ve had a real good ride.”

The undisputed king of American Hockey League enforcers, Bonvie broke into professional hockey with the Cape Breton Oilers on Oct. 8, 1993. In the ensuing 14 seasons, he has played in more than 900 professional games and racked up an amazing 4,601 penalty minutes in the AHL and NHL combined – more than any other player in the history of the sport.

Bonvie was signed by Cape Breton as a free agent prior to the 1993-94 season, and made an impact in the league immediately, recording 278 penalty minutes in his rookie campaign. His work ethic and tenacity earned him an NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers the following season, and he made his big league debut against the Los Angeles Kings on Apr. 19, 1995. He also posted 422 penalty minutes with the AHL Oilers, placing second in the circuit, and appeared in the 1995 AHL All-Star Game in Providence, scoring one goal.

The next four seasons saw stops in Hamilton, Portland and Philadelphia in the AHL, as well as Chicago in the NHL, before he landed with the Penguins on Sept. 20, 1999. Bonvie became a cult hero to the hometown fans during the team’s first two seasons, with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton faithful dubbing the Wachovia Arena the ‘House That Bonvie Built.’ He played in 107 games with the AHL Penguins during his first stop in town, making a trip to the Calder Cup Finals in 2001. He also saw action in 31 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including a single-season high 28 in the NHL in 1999-2000.

He split the next four years between six teams, regularly showing up when the Binghamton Senators or Hershey Bears came to town, before returning to Northeast Pennsylvania with great fanfare prior to the 2005-06 campaign.

“I said coming back three years ago that this is the place I wanted to retire,” said Bonvie. “I always said this was my home away from home, Wilkes-Barre. And I’m not lying. I enjoy being here, I own a house here and my family and I are ecstatic about coming back, and hopefully being part of the future in Wilkes-Barre.”

It’s just that that future won’t be as a player. The transition may be a tough one for the man the opponents love to hate, but it’s a change he’s ready to embrace.

“This is all I know. This is what I’ve done. This is my 15th year [as a professional hockey player], and I played three years of junior before that. I’ve played my whole life since I was five,” said the native of Antigonish, N.S. “To end it…it’s going to be tough. But it’s something that I think myself and my family have prepared for. I’ve been given the opportunity here to do that. In some ways it gives you a year to prepare and get ready, figure out what you want to do. That’s what I think I want to try to do.”

But while he’s decided to hang up the skates at season’s end, Bonvie is in no way planning on going out quietly.

“I don’t want that to take the focus off what we’re trying to do here, and that’s, fingers crossed, win a championship,” he said. “I look forward to playing and contributing, and being a big part of that. But at the same time I’m letting you know that this is my last year.”

The Penguins plan on honoring Bonvie throughout the season, with several of the team’s promotional items featuring the bruiser. Additionally, special ticket packages featuring some of Bonvie’s former teams will be going on sale in the near future.

NOTES: Bonvie wore the number 8 in his first two games as a Penguin, October 1, 1999 at Philadelphia and October 2, 1999 at Hershey, but has worn number 27 for his following 233 with the club…Not only did Bonvie assist on the first goal in team history at Hershey on Oct. 2, 1999 (Martin Sonnenberg, 16:22 of 1st period), he also assisted on the first home goal in team history. That came off the stick of Greg Crozier at 16:36 of the first period against the Kentucky Thoroughblades on Nov. 13, 1999…Bonvie’s first goal with the Penguins also happened to be the first overtime goal in team history. It came against Jon Hillebrandt of the Louisville Panthers on Dec. 1, 1999 at 3:28 of OT…Bonvie ranks 25th on the AHL’s all-time games played list with 821, and is the active leader in games played at the AHL level.