By: Russ Hryvnak | Twitter: @RussWBS
When the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins announced their plans for a Hall of Fame, it came as no surprise that the one of first to receive this honor would be none other than Dennis Bonvie.
In the team’s inaugural season, 1999-00, Bonvie quickly found himself cast into the role of fan favorite. The native of Nova Scotia was an undrafted player before he signed with the Edmonton Oilers organization. He played in six professional seasons before arriving in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but found a home here in NEPA.
Bonvie called to mind the first season of Penguins hockey.
“The first year was a great one,” Bonvie recalled. “The people really supported us. The valley was really humming when it came to hockey and the fans really wanted to see us play every night. So it was a pretty exciting time for sure.”
It’s no secret that Bonvie was not afraid to play a physical game. At 5’11” and 205 pounds, Bonvie was known for playing a rough and tough style of hockey.
“That has been the way I played since I started playing in juniors,” Bonvie said. “I did well at it. If I didn’t do well at it I wouldn’t have continued to do it. What I did to get my foot in the door was to scrap a little bit. I knew that was my bread and butter and that is what I did best, so I had to continue to do that to get the chance to elevate the other parts of my game. Like my skating, puck skills and managing the puck. Those are the things that will help you become a regular player. At the end of the day you need to do what you do best, whatever gives you the best chance to make it and for me that was to scrap a little bit.”
Widely known as the most penalized player in professional hockey, Bonvie accumulated a total of 4,804 penalty minutes between his time in the American Hockey League and National Hockey League. Playing in 871 AHL games and 92 NHL games, the right winger takes pride in his accomplishment.
“I’d love to tell you I scored 30 goals a year for 15 years, but I didn’t,” he said. “I wasn’t going to do that, I wasn’t that type of player. Am I proud of what I did? Yeah, I am. I played to the best of my ability and as hard as I could. I didn’t go out and try to set records, but it just kind of happened. I was lucky enough to play as long as I did and stay healthy. I did my job to the best of my ability and I’m proud of what I accomplished.”
The Mohegan Sun Arena has gone through a few name changes over the years, but for most fans it will always be known as the “House that Bonvie Built”. Bonvie, who played five seasons with the Penguins, taking part in 285 games and recording 16 goals and 68 assists, was clearly honored by this and credits the fans for the nickname.
“It’s pretty nice, there’s no doubt about it,” Bonvie said. “I was lucky to be one of the guys on that initial team and I think being new generated a lot of excitement. It’s funny you know, New York had hockey teams, Philadelphia had hockey teams and we were in the middle of the two with not a lot of hockey going on, which was astounding to me. It certainly took fire and away it went. When the fans see you go out and give a workmanlike effort day in and day out, I think any player that gives that is going to be well liked and well perceived by the fans. I was lucky enough to have the fans like me and accept me in the community.”
Although he is currently working as a scout with the Chicago Blackhawks, Bonvie still has a relationship with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He took part in the alumni game during the 2013 AHL Outdoor Classic festivities, representing the Pens.
“That was a really nice event in Hershey,” Bonvie said. “My whole family was there and my son was on the bench. Bottom line is, you always want to pull the jersey on and play one more shift. I know that most guys that are retired know it isn’t going to happen, but that’s the competitive edge that you have. To be able to do that, in a different light at the alumni game, was still pretty special.”
Despite playing in a number of different cities, Bonvie chose to stay here in NEPA and make it his home.
“At the end of the day, I always wanted to come back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton,” Bonvie said humbly. “I wanted to play in the NHL, but if it didn’t come to fruition, I wanted to come back and finish up in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. I talked about it with my wife and my family and that’s what I decided to do and I have no regrets with that decision.
“You could live in the biggest and nicest place in the world, but if you aren’t happy it doesn’t mean much. I came here and met some tremendous people that have been very good to me and my family. I think the people made my decision to stay here so easy.”
When asked about his induction to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Hall of Fame, Bonvie was taken aback by the achievement.
“Obviously it is a tremendous honor,” he said. “To see that the fans that voted me in see me in that positive manner is quite nice. The biggest message and its probably the most simple message from me is, thank you. Without the fans, I wouldn’t be having this night and honor. I was fortunate enough to play pro hockey, but without the fans showing up in droves and cheering us on, the game wouldn’t be the same. I cannot thank the fans enough.”
Although his playing days may be over, Bonvie understands that the game will play on. On February 22, as a member of the first class of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Hall of Fame, he will be forever immortalized as a fighter, a player and most importantly a Penguin.
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