Puck Daddy chats with Nick Bonino about college hockey, Boudreau effect, and playoffs

The San Jose Sharks did something that is downright deplorable (by Sharks fans standards), they made a trade-deadline deal in 2009 that would make their nemesis, the Anaheim Ducks, a significantly better team … in a couple years.

In March of 2009, the Ducks sent Travis Moen and Kent Huskins to the Sharks in exchange for a fourth-round conditional pick at that year’s draft, goaltender Timo Pielmeier, and the rights to an unsigned prospect drafted in 2007 currently playing at Boston University.

Around a month after the trade, San Jose would catch a glimpse of the player they sent to SoCal in the NCAA hockey championship game where Boston University was taking on Miami (Ohio) University.

Down 3-1 with a minute to go, BU pulled their goalie. The then-Ducks prospect put a shot on net that created a rebound for teammate Zach Cohen to send past the Miami goaltender leaving 59.5 seconds to play. This same prospect scored the game-tying goal with 17.4 seconds on the clock.

BU went on to win the championship in overtime. Not too long afterward, the prospect inked an entry-level contract with Anaheim.

Who was this mysterious man that would go on to be one of the hidden gems of the NHL? It’s Nick Bonino.

Bonino was taken back to his big night as he watched this year’s Frozen Four and saw in-state rival Boston College almost replicate BU’s epic comeback, “BC down two goals with a minute left, [ESPN anchor John] Buccigross said something like ‘this isn’t the first time a comeback like this would’ve happened’. Made it pretty cool.”

Even with his heroics, Bonino didn’t become a ‘prospect to watch’; that honor tends to go to players coming out of Canadian major-junior or the European leagues. That suited the Connecticut-native just fine, “I think that’s the norm for USA guys, to go to college … I know a couple of guys on [the Ducks] have, but I never was a junior guy. I’d been recruited for colleges and that was the route I always wanted to go.” And away he went to Boston University.

I interviewed Nick after practice on Friday, a day before the Ducks game against the Kings. As I waited for him, there was a crowd of people gathered outside the Ducks locker room at the team’s practice facility, Anaheim Ice. (They were all waiting for one person whose name sounds like ‘Shamu Salami’.) As Bonino waded through the masses in street clothes, he was getting the ‘where do I know you from?’ look from some of the people.

A household name, he is not, but he should be.

Bonino, 25, has proven himself to be a key component of the Ducks success. In the lockout-shortened season, Bonino tore his hamstring and missed 21 games. At the time of his injury, the Ducks record was 17-3-3, and they proceeded to go 10-8-3 without him. The same impact has shown itself this season when he missed five games due to injury. Anaheim was 1-4-0 without Nick.

Bones, as he’s affectionately known by his teammates, is having a career year. He’s currently the Ducks third leading at scorer at 48-points (21-27=48) behind the duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. He’s second to Getzlaf in power play points at 20. He plays with a different line almost every night, and as of late, has spent time with Getzlaf and Perry in the revolving door that is their left-wing.

In the game following our interview, Bonino scored a ridiculous semi-no-look, backwards, backhand goal while on his knees. The Ducks beat the Kings 4-3 in a shoot-out. Anaheim clinched the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference and a meeting with Dallas in the first round.

Enjoy getting to know this funny, affable, and thankful player.

Q. Aside from your parents, who has had the biggest positive impact on your career?

BONINO: You know, I got asked this yesterday and it’s a tough question to answer. I had a lot of good influences.

Like you said, my parents started me out, and have always done everything for me. But I’ve been lucky to play for a lot of good coaches. John Gardner [at Avon Old Farm] high school. Jack Parker [of Boston University].

Then at the NHL level you got guys like Bruce who really help you, and you learn from everyone. You learn from the coaches, you learn from players. I’ve played with a lot of great players, too. So you take all that and it kind of works together to influence you.

Going back to what you were saying about your teammates, is there someone at the NHL level that you’ve looked up to, taught you how to be a pro. Anyone like that?

Yeah, I think one of the things we’re lucky with here is the veteran leadership. Coming into the league I got to play with [Scott] Niedermayer for nine games and that was an eye opener with just how professional he is.

Then you got Teemu [Selanne]; you got Saku [Koivu]. Guys like [Ryan Getzlaf]. Especially for me, guys like Saku and Getzy are really helpful because they’re centers, and they’re not afraid to help you out and show you faceoffs, show you d-zone coverage. [They] make it a lot easier for you. Those guys have been a huge help.

How was Italy during the lockout? Did playing for HC Neumarkt/Edna help you get ready for the season? You posted unbelievable numbers there. [19 GP, 26-26=52 pts.]

Italy was a lot of fun. It obviously wasn’t the best league in the world, but it wasn’t, you know, a cakewalk either. It was a lot of guys who could skate well on the big ice, and for me that helped my skating; I could work on it. I played a lot of minutes every night.

It’s a whole different culture. I was in Italy, wasn’t traveling much for games, everything was close. I had a lot of days off. You see Europe and eat a lot of good food and sometimes drink some good wine. [Laughs] It was a great experience.

Your career really took off when Bruce Boudreau came in. How has he utilized you differently than Randy Carlyle did?

At the same time as it is a coach, it’s being early in your career. You struggle with confidence … sometimes you’re put in a role you’re not comfortable with … where you’re playing six-to-eight minutes, and it’s definitely hard. You love being in the NHL; you’d give everything to play those six-to-eight minutes, but if that’s not the style of game you play it can be tough.

When Bruce came here he let me, you know, spread my wings a little bit, and it was fun. You’ve got to earn [the coaches] trust, and you try to do that. I’m still trying to do that. You want to be a guy who is on the ice late in games.

He’s a really positive coach which I think helps me. He’s honest with you and keeps things light. For me, that resonated well.

How is this year’s team different than last year’s team?

It’s not very different … we’ve got pretty [much] the same core and we’ve added some pieces that have really impacted us in a positive way. We’ve got such solid goaltending; we’ve got three great options right now.

We learned a lot from last year. We took a lot from losing in the first round, and we took a lot from the way the season went. So, I think we’re better than we were last year. Now we’ve got to prove it.

On the first round loss from last year, how do you avoid that happening again? Is it mental? It’s just upping your game a little bit more? [Note: Interview conducted Friday morning prior to games against LA and Colorado; first round had not been set.]

It was a tough loss, a really tough way to finish last year. We had such a good year. That matchup [against Detroit] was a struggle for us. We played a team that didn’t want to get a physical battle going, they wanted to skate, and we’d relied on our physicality all year. One of reasons the teams win in the play-offs, is that they’re able to adapt … to play against any team.

Our focus now is on that first round matchup, but we don’t know who that will be because the conference is still up for grabs. Before we look ahead to that, we’ve got two tough games against a team [Kings] we hate, and a team [Colorado] that we’re starting to hate I think from the way the season’s gone {wry smile}. It should be a pretty good weekend of hockey.

Are you kind of happy to see the Sharks and Kings beat up on each other?

Yeah, you know the first round matchups are going to be crazy this year. You got that, and … Chicago and St. Louis. The way this new system is it could be a lot of rivalries on the first round all over the league so it should be exciting, especially for the fans.