Apr. 11, 2009, Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The Boston University Terriers were but a minute away from losing the national championship game to the upstart Miami (Ohio) RedHawks trailing 3-1.
Coach Jack Parker pulled his goalie to gain an extra attacker in hopes of pulling off a last-minute (literally) comeback. Among the six skaters on the ice was sophomore Nick Bonino who assisted on the goal that made it 3-2. The Hartford, Connecticut native and San Jose Sharks draft pick (though his NHL rights were traded to the Anaheim Ducks a month earlier) stayed on the ice for the last push to tie the game.
As Miami desperately held out hope for their improbable victory, senior Matt Gilroy found himself screaming down the slot with the puck.
He didn’t shoot.
Instead he slid the puck over to a wide-open Bonino who one-timed it and tied the game with 17 seconds left. B.U. would later win their sixth national championship in overtime thanks in large part to the timely play of Bonino.
The Ducks have come to learn he has a knack for that sort of thing.
When Travis Moen and Kent Huskins were traded to San Jose at the deadline in 2009 a lot of fans thought it was a sign that general manager Bob Murray was throwing in the towel for the rest of the season. How else would you explain trading away a couple of key players to a division rival in exchange for a couple of prospects and a draft pick?
Turns out Murray knew something we didn’t: Nick Bonino was worth moving two key pieces for the Stanley Cup team in the middle of a playoff race. “Bones” went on play one more year at B.U. before making his pro debut with the Ducks at the tail end of the 2009-2010 season.
Over the next two seasons Bonino bounced back and forth from the minors showing promise but also creating doubt. His skating and size left a lot to be desired. But his vision and offensive instincts suggested this player could be something special.
He proved last season that he can hold his own on this team with his strong face-off ability and prowess on the power play but it was in the spring when his true value finally materialized.
It was Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals as the Ducks were tied with their long-time playoff rival the Detroit Red Wings. The Ducks and Wings traded goals in the first and second periods but remained deadlocked at 2 after regulation. Barely two minutes into overtime, Ben Lovejoymoved the puck along the right boards looking for someone to pass to. As a scrum of players battled in front of the net, Bonino drifted away from them making his stick available. Lovejoy was able to find Bonino through a maze of skates and sticks where he buried it to win Game 5.
The Ducks took a 3-2 lead in the series but that victory would prove to be their last of the year as Detroit came back and won the series in Game 7.
I think that goal also unlocked the new Bonino. This past season he exploded offensively putting up career highs in goals (22), assists (27) and points (49) as well as finishing with a plus 14. His ability to play on any line, contribute on special teams, and be counted on in the last minute of a game made him a key component for Bruce Boudreau’s Pacific Division and Western Conference winning club. But a player’s true worth is measured in the playoffs.
Last Sunday the Ducks found themselves in a precarious position. Up 3-2 in their opening round series against Dallas they trailed the Stars 4-2 late in Game 6. Nightmares of last spring’s debacle against the Red Wings surfaced as a seemingly inevitable Game 7 loomed. Boudreau needed a small miracle to dig his team out of this hole and end this series to avoid another winner-takes-all finale.
As if this is what he was put on this Earth to do, Bonino got the comeback started with a goal with under three minutes to play while Jonas Hiller was on the bench for an extra man. Devante Smith-Pelly was able to get the tying-goal with 24 seconds left sending the game to overtime.
In overtime Andrew Cogliano had the puck in the offensive zone looking for a pass. As he did in 09 and last season, Bonino put himself in a position to receive the pass and play the role of hero for a third time.
Being mobbed by his teammates seems to be a springtime ritual for Bonino. Time and time again he finds himself with the game on his stick and he makes it happen. This has led to a national championship and a first round victory so far.
The Ducks have their sights on the ultimate prize these playoffs and if Boudreau finds himself in need of a game-changing goal, you can bet he’ll tap No. 13 to get the job done.
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