AVON – He’s not the first Avon Old Farms graduate to win the Stanley Cup. But Farmington native Nick Bonino is the first to bring it on campus. Bonino, a 27-year-old center, is a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the Stanley Cup finals in June.
Tradition allows every member of the championship team a day with the Cup to do as they please. One of Bonino’s wishes was to share the Cup with as many people as possible.
An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 fans came to Avon Old Farms on a sweltering afternoon to have their photo taken with Bonino and the Stanley Cup. The first person in line was on campus at 8:45 a.m. for the event that began at 1:30 p.m.
Bonino patiently smiled and posed with fans for two hours and when the time was up, he carried the Cup around the Brown Center gymnasium so the hundreds of fans still in line could touch it and perhaps snap a quick photo.
There wasn’t much time to spare. Bonino was due at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford in 30 minutes. There, he shared the Cup with patients and staff. Bonino and his wife Lauren presented the medical center with a donation of $10,000. Much of that donation was raised from fans at Avon Old Farms.
It was an exhausting schedule but Bonino was strong, patient and smiled throughout the day. Hundreds posed for a photo with Bonino and the Cup. One Avon couple placed their six-day old son in the Cup for a photo.
“We really appreciate Nick for doing this,” said John Gardner, his ice hockey coach at Avon Old Farms. “Nick wanted as many people get a chance to see the Cup as possible.”
“It’s pretty cool to share this with the fans here at Avon Old Farms,” Bonino said.
Bonino knew this moment might be possible when he was traded from Vancouver to Pittsburgh in July 2015. It was a surprise to the Bonino’s, who had just bought a house in Vancouver.
“It was a shock. It was unexpected,” he said of his trade to the Penguins. “The only solace I took from it was I thought Pittsburgh was a in a better position to win the Cup a lot sooner with the talent they had. I thought I could help them.”
Bonino scored just nine goals in 63 games with 20 assists. But once the playoffs got underway, the Penguins had figured it out. Bonino thrived with teammates Carl Hagelin on the left wing and Phil Kessel on the right wing.
After Evgeni Malkin was hurt in early March, the Bonino, Hagelin, Kessel line combined for 17 goals and 43 points in the final 15 games of the regular season as the Penguins finished with a 13-2 run. “As the year went on, we figured out our lines and our roles and everything came together,” Bonino said.
Gardner said it bluntly, “He moves the puck and people love to play with someone who moves the puck.”
Bonino had four goals and 14 assists in the playoffs for the Penguins. He had the game-winning goal in game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against San Jose. He had the game-winning goal in overtime in game six to beat Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Bonino began his career at Farmington High, where he scored 68 goals as a junior leading the Indians to the CIAC Division II state championship with a 5-4 win in two OT over Trumbull. He had the game-winning goal and two goals in the third period for Farmington.
He moved onto Avon Old Farms where he led the Winged Beavers to the New England championship in 2007. But it wasn’t easy for Bonino. Gardner admitted that Bonino had a lot of work to do just to compete at AOF.
“He had unbelievable hands and had great vision,” Gardner said. But his skating was poor.
“The reason Nick is who he is, is because he can be coached,” Gardner said. “He’s a smart kid. I use him as an example of someone who worked hard and because he has worked hard, that’s why he is where he is.”
Bonino went to Boston University and won a national championship there. He also met his future wife, Lauren, at BU the first weekend they were there. She had missed orientation but Nick was there to walk her to her class and off they went.
Bonino spent five seasons in Anaheim before getting traded to Vancouver in July 2014. A year later, he was traded to Pittsburgh. Twelve months later, he was celebrating with the Stanley Cup in Connecticut.
He began the day at his golf course with the idea he would play nine holes in 30 minutes with the Cup. That didn’t go far. He took four strokes and was in plenty of photos.
He visited where his father, Steve, works and shared the Cup with his Dad and Steve’s co-workers.
After that he visited his grandparents, Jim and Nina. “They’re probably his biggest fans,” Lauren Bonino said. “Papa (Jim) calls him before every single game and leaves him a voice mail. One of the first things Nick said after they won the Cup was that he wanted to have Nana’s (Nina) secret tuna fish pasta out of the cup.”
“I think that might be the one memory I cherish the most – my Nana and Papa kissing the Cup and eating pasta out of it,” Nick Bonino said. “Everything is playing out the way I hoped it would.”
Thousands of fans stood in line for hours for a chance to get their photos taken with the Cup. Gardner had hoped to hold the ceremony outside but the stifling heat and humidity forced the event inside the air conditioned Brown Center gymnasium.
The AOF staff brought water out to the fans standing patiently in the sun. AOF set up additional rows in the gymnasium so everyone could get inside the building to wait in the cooler air.
The Bonino’s seven-month-old daughter Maisie sat in the Cup, drawing cheers and smiles.
Brian Leetch won a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994. Goalie Jonathan Quick won twice with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. Both played at AOF. Neither could fit bringing the Stanley Cup back to the school in the precious few hours they had the Cup.
Gardner defended Quick in 2012 when he was criticized for not bringing the Cup to his hometown of Hamden. “It’s his Cup,” he told the Hartford Courant. “It’s not other people’s Cup. It’s his Cup and he should do what he wants with it.”
Still, Gardner was thrilled when Bonino asked him if he could bring it to Avon Old Farms. He had a smile on his face all afternoon and so did the dozens of AOF employees helping fans throughout the hot, humid afternoon.
Everyone had a smile Thursday at Avon Old Farms. Nick Bonino and the Stanley Cup were in town.