Saturday, May 7, 2016

Dennis Bonvie

A non-gaming aside today. 

Before we had kids, one of the things my wife and I often did were go to hockey games.  This is not a normal family trait on either side of our family.  I can count on one hand the number of times I've laced up skates (last time circa 1999) and my wife.  Well, let's just say a 10% chance of freezing rain strikes terror in her heart. 

Through some promotions by the local AHL club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, we got some decent discounts on tickets to our date nights.  I had a base familiarity of the sport, the removal of the two line pass, the goalie trapezoid, and a few other changes that happened post-NHL lockout. 

My wife just wanted to see the fights. 

Back before I moved into the area, there was a great hubbub over tax dollars to build an arena, right off the highway, on reclaimed mine land.  Such is the way in an area with an eternal miner's mentality.  But soon the Arena at Casey Plaza (...then First Union... Wachovia... now Mohegan Sun Arena) was built and the area residents clamored into it to witness this foreign thing called hockey. 

They came for a game.  They went back for the fights, thanks to a man named Dennis Bonvie. 

Bonvie was a scrappy fellow from Nova Scotia who came up in the Edmonton Oilers organization.   Not gifted with the talent of a Gretzky, he did had the gift of hitting people hard off the boards and in the classic gladiatorial combat which is the hockey fight.  He became an Enforcer, banished to the fourth line to be used not for their passing skills, but their hard nose play and, although most won't immediately admit, to retaliate against questionable hits from the other team.

For the residents of Northeast PA, the fact that hockey was violent soccer/basketball on ice was a plus.  Dennis dropping his gloves to defend his team, an individual teammate, or his personal honor as an enforcer, made the place go nuts. 

Fast forward a few years later, the team had great support from the community, and Mr Bonvie continued his journeyman career with other AHL teams, included the hated Hershey Bears.

While no one specifically knew the whole story, by the time we started going, Dennis Bonvie had made a return to the Baby Pens, a few years older, a step or two slower, but still the consummate professional athlete, using his years of experience to work a crowd or his teammates, and how to outwit his opponents. 

Our first game, he fought someone from Rochester, or Syracuse, or Binghamton, and instantly became her favorite player.    Sure, I don't she knows that Tyler Kennedy or Alex Goligoski are no longer with Pittsburgh, but she can tell some amusing anecdotes about Bonvie's fights, the few goals he scored, and some interesting encounters with the Hamilton Bulldogs Fan Club and her continued disdain for most things outwardly Canadian. 

After three seasons with this second Penguins stint, he decided it was time to retire as the most penalized man in all of professional hockey, and formally settle in the Wilkes-Barre area.   We got through one more season of going to games, and although the hockey fighting were consoled by the loss of Bonvie by the emergence of Paul Bissonnette, the birth of our first daughter Maja, and the budgetary changes that came from that forced us to forgo hockey as a live activity. 

Dennis tried to be fixture in the community, opening up a cookie franchise and a restaurant in downtown Wilkes-Barre.   Although the business didn't pan out, for different reasons, my wife did manage to get the owner of Bonvie's Blue Chip Cookies to hold our daughter for a picture.

Obviously, that man is a menace to society.

Fast forward nearly seven years later.  Maja's reading program in first grade awarded a free Penguins ticket for reading 10 or 20 books, with discounts on any other tickets.   With twelfth row tickets behind the visitors goals, our old stomping grounds, the kids got a full showing of board crashing, hard hitting, fist smashing hockey.  My wife, Michelle was hooked again, as was Maja.  Our youngest, Millie still wasn't so sure. 

That week, we signed up for a small ticket package for three.  Half the games could be childless date nights, and we would split the other set to bring the kids to the other half of the games.  This automatically granted us some cool benefits from the Pens.   

On a fight-filled Sunday afternoon against the dreaded Hershey Bears my wife took Millie to the bathroom and a familiar face along the spectator railing.   Although he's a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks, he was as friendly and down-to-earth as ever, even getting a picture taken with Millie, the one in the family that's not quite so sure about hockey. 

We've got tickets for Game 3 of the Calder Cup playoffs series between the Pens and those silly Bears tonight.  Two games in Hershey should knock the rust off the Penguins, who swept their previous series and have been resting up since.    While we are planning a road trip or two to see them play the Bears, or the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Allentown, or ever the NHL Pens in Pittsburgh, we're quite happy with a ten minute drive to the local team in the "House that Bonvie Built" (even if it was big enough for a giant Trump rally this past month).

And there better be a fight, or my wife and daughter will be intolerable.

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