By Brian Coe
Dennis Bonvie had legions of young fans who followed his career with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. And now one of the penalty minute king’s admirers is looking to follow in Bonvie’s footsteps with the team he grew up watching.
Twenty-year-old Patrick McGrath was among the 26 players attending the first day of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton training camp on Saturday morning. For a youngster from Shavertown who spent his formative years watching the action at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, the opportunity to take to the ice with the Penguins logo emblazoned across his chest was a near dream come true.
“It was a pretty special feeling actually,” McGrath said after Saturday’s practice. “I grew up here watching [the Penguins] ever since I was a kid. Guys like Tom Kostopoulos and Andy Chiodo out there are guys I look up to.”
McGrath became the first locally born and trained player to earn a training camp invite from the Penguins this year. He began playing the sport on in-house teams and with the Pocono Pirates youth program locally, before eventually working his way up the ranks to major junior hockey.
The fact that he’s the first player from the area to slip on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton sweater isn’t something that he takes lightly.
“It is an honor,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can to grow hockey in this area, and hopefully there will be more kids following in my footsteps.”
One of those players McGrath shared the ice with on Saturday was the aforementioned Kostopoulos, who was a member of the Penguins for the team’s inaugural squad back in 1999 when McGrath was just five years old.
“He was telling me he watched me play when he was a kid. So he was making me feel a little old,” laughed the veteran of more than 600 NHL games. “But it’s amazing to see what the Penguins have done to this area, and to see youth hockey players growing up in this area playing junior and hopefully getting college scholarships in the future and playing professional hockey. It’s really neat to have a kid that grew up in Wilkes-Barre in this dressing room.”
A rugged right winger, McGrath appeared in 61 games with the Prince Edward Island Rocket of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, recording 171 penalty minutes and leading the entire league with 29 fighting majors.
“Luckily I had Dennis Bonvie,” McGrath said of the local legend, who has served as a sounding board for the up and coming pugilist. “He’s helped me and given me little pointers here and there to make sure that I do my job and protect myself.”
McGrath knows that earning a spot on the Penguins roster for opening night won’t be an easy task. But he’s not afraid of putting in the time and effort needed to make that next step in his hockey career.
“I started out in the Q two years ago and they sent me down to the Maritime League,” he stated. “It didn’t discourage me, because I’ve been like that my whole career. I had to climb from the bottom up. I just kept working every day as hard as I could.”
And now that hard work has him right back where he started, but closer to attaining his dream.
Individual game tickets to all Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins home games are on sale now.
Tickets are available for purchase at the Mohegan Sun Arena box office, online at TicketMaster.com, or by calling the Penguins at 570-208-7367.
The Penguins begin their 15th season in the American Hockey League on October 5, when they travel to Connecticut to face the Bridgeport SoundTigers. The team's home opener will take place on Saturday, October 12, when the Penguins host the Hershey Bears at 7:05pm.
For more information on Penguins season ticket packages, call the team's front office at 570-208-7367, or fill out the information below and a Penguins account executive will contact you shortly.
40 Coal Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702 · 570-208-7367
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