When Wild general manager Bill Guerin wanted a veteran center who knew what it took to win the Stanley Cup, he reached out to the Nashville Predators to acquire Nick Bonino. Guerin knew Bonino from his days as an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bonino helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017, and led the Penguins in assists in that 2016 Cup run.
After helping lift Boston University to an NCAA title as a sophomore, Bonino spent one more year in college and then was off to the NHL to play for the Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Penguins and Predators before joining the Wild. While at BU, Bonino met his wife, Lauren, a forward on the women’s hockey team. They have two daughters, Maisie, 5, and Isobel, 2.
Bonino is the center on the Wild’s second line with Marcus Johansson and Kevin Fiala.
The Pioneer Press chatted with Bonino about his life, his career, his Stanley Cup wins and his new role with the Wild.
Lauren and I didn’t really see each other on the ice at BU. We played on different rinks. We lived in the same dorm. The first day of school, I knew a girl from Connecticut and her roommate was Lauren. I think they were eating breakfast in the dorm. The friend said, “Lauren doesn’t know where to go, can you show her?” I said, “Yeah, and I showed her.” We both were in sweatpants and sweat shirts. We became friends and started dating in November. We were married in 2014 in Boston, where we met.
Maisie was born in Pittsburgh, Isobel in Nashville. They’ve been everywhere. They’ve been in all climates. This is actually our first time with a lot of snow. They’ve really enjoyed sledding and all that the snow brings.
The first Stanley Cup win was a little more exciting. We were pretty low in the standings around Christmas. Once we got going through February and March, we hit our stride at the right time. The next year, we thought we had the best team in the league again and it was more of a business approach. Nothing else was good enough. The conference finals weren’t good enough.
That was pretty cool (to have the Stanley Cup for a day). My grandparents always made pasta with tuna fish sauce. It’s a red sauce with tuna fish and we grate Parmesan cheese on it. That was what I knew we wanted to eat. So the first year, my Nana had broken her hip so we took the Stanley Cup to the rehab home she was in. We rented out a room there. We had the pasta made and we dumped it in the Stanley Cup and we grated the cheese right over it. Then we did it at their house the next year. Two best bowls of pasta I ever had. That probably was my most special memory with the Cup, seeing their faces and watching them drink out of it, too. Seeing my 92-year-old grandfather getting a sip out of it was really special.
Once you win it, it doesn’t quench your thirst.
The Cup guys are pretty awesome. They really let you do what you want. The big rule is no one can lift it on their own. You have to be helping lift with it. My brother-in-law got in trouble. He didn’t realize how strict the rules were. He got scolded a little bit. They were helpful with everything, with transportation and with cleaning. They’ll take it and clean it. They’ll hose it off usually and soap it out. I’m sure they’ve got great sanitation because there’s a lot of mouths that touch it before COVID. I’m guessing there was a different celebration this year.
I didn’t really talk to Bill much (in Pittsburgh). In passing, we’d talk. We weren’t really keeping in touch. (And now) I haven’t had a familiarity with a general manager of mine like this. I definitely feel if I had anything questions or concerns, I could call him and it wouldn’t be weird. He seems to be like that with everyone. From the minute I got traded here, he would joke with you and could flip to being your boss. You’re not left wondering where you stand.
Bill and I have had a couple of talks. Just be myself (is what he wants). I’m a pretty positive, optimistic guy. There’s rarely a day I come to the rink in a bad mood. Just have that rub off on guys and help out whoever needs help. Some days, I need help. For the most part, just be there for guys if they want to talk. If anything, just help out whoever needs it and go about my business and be a professional.
(Wild coach Dean Evason) is the same as Billy. Very honest. His door is always open. He encourages discussions. Our relationship is very good.
Playing the Wild was just going to be a hard game. They were very hard to play against. It was a structured team. There weren’t many breakdowns or openings. They were tough defensively and had a lot of guys who could hurt you. It always was a building that was tough and you knew they had a crowd that was loud.
Whenever I’m with a team, I give everything I’ve got. Every time I’m traded I think the other team wants me more. As I’ve gotten older, it’s easier to deal with mentally.
There’s so many veteran players on this team. I’m not coming in and telling anyone stuff they don’t know. People know how hard it is to win. Having won, I guess my experience definitely is a little different. I do the same thing I’ve always done: I just be myself, work as hard as I can, try to lead by example by how hard I work and how I play the game. That usually translates off the ice to helping guys who need help.
I ended up building a gym in the basement (in the offseason). It came out really nice, but that was hard work. That probably was harder than any of the workouts I did, lugging those hundred pound mats downstairs and cutting them with an X-ACTO knife. My knees were ripped up. I lost a few pairs of pants. The knees were gone. It definitely was a different experience than I’m used to with going to a gym. But I enjoyed it, being able to get up and not leave the kids. They could come down and watch. Get on the rowing machine with me, or the skier. And they loved doing that. My takeaway was there was a lot more family time than I normally would have in an offseason. And with the (COVID-related) pause, you get a lot more family time and that ended up being a silver lining to that whole year.
Maybe when I’m done, but as a player I’m not going to go around wearing the (Stanley Cup) rings. They’re locked away. Maybe after my career, I’ll take another close look at them. Hopefully, we’ll win another one.
I’m 32. If I can continue to produce like I have, I don’t think speed has ever been super important for me. As I get older, it shouldn’t really affect my game the longer I play. I’d like to think I can play a lot longer. I feel I am valuable and efficient and make teams better. As long as that happens, I’d like to keep playing.
Bob Sansevere does a daily podcast called “The BS Show” that can be heard on radio stations in Duluth (KDAL), Hibbing (WNMT) and St. Cloud (WBHR).