When Nick Bonino was four years old, his father, who never played hockey or skated, asked if he wanted to attend a learn-to-skate session at his nearby rink in Unionville, Conn.
“I said, ‘Sure,’ ” Bonino reminisced. “I tried it out and I’ve been playing ever since.”
Fourteen years later - in 2006 - Bonino was eligible in the NHL draft. Unfortunately for him, he was passed over in all seven rounds. But the next off-season, things were looking up for the center, who was projected as a third or fourth round draft pick.
However, after staring at his computer screen for hours and not getting selected, Bonino became nervous and decided to relieve the pressure by having a skate with some friends. When he returned and looked at his phone, he learned the San Jose Sharks had selected him in the sixth round (173rd overall).
In 2007, the 6-foot-1, 186-pounder received a scholarship to play at Boston University, one of the most successful college hockey programs in the United States.
“One of the biggest reasons I went to BU was because they were a national contender year in and year out and because of coach (Jack) Parker,” Bonino said. “He’s a really good coach - really great with X’s and O’s. I knew X’s and O’s pretty good, but when you’re there, you learn all about positioning. You have to be in the right place at the right time or you’re going to hear it. It really helps advance your game.”
Bonino’s squad won the National Championship in 2009 after a late, two-goal comeback led to an overtime win against the University of Miami. Bonino called that moment one of the greatest of his young career.
But during the championship run, San Jose traded Bonino’s rights to the Anaheim Ducks, along with goaltender Timo Pielmeier. A year later, after his junior season at Boston University was complete, Bonino signed an entry level deal and has played 35 NHL games to this point in his career. He’s currently with the American League’s Syracuse Crunch and has found a temporary home under coach Mark Holick. This season, Bonino has eight goals and 21 points in 28 AHL games, a performance the Crunch have thoroughly enjoyed.
“He skates real well, has quick feet, shoots the puck well and sees the ice,” Holick said. “When we got into scrimmages, you could see that he distributes the puck real well. From the red line in, you can tell that he’s a pretty good player.”
But despite his early pro success, Bonino recognizes he needs to continue to grow as a player.
“I play well defensively, but when I get the puck I’m able to be creative with it,” he said. “I can make good passes. As it is with everyone, though, I need to get bigger, stronger and faster. I have to try to win more battles along the wall; those are pretty big. I have to have the intensity whenever I go into those battles.”
He also clearly understands what it will take for him to get to the next level.
“Confidence,” he said. “That’s one of the things I need to be a little better at. I have to believe that I’m capable of playing in the NHL. If I keep doing the little things and work hard, day in and day out, the rest will take care of itself. It pretty much just comes down to believing that you can play and following up on it.”
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