WILKES-BARRE TWP. – In the end, the toughest man in the AHL was reduced to tears.
With lights shining his number and fans chanting his name, Dennis Bonive broke down at the podium while talking about his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins teammates and family following a 3-2 loss against the Norfolk Admirals on Saturday night – the final regular season game of Bonvie’s remarkable 16-year career.
“This was an unbelievable night, such a special night,” said the AHL’s all-time leader in career penalty minutes, who announced before the season this one would be his last. “Fifteen years ago, I wanted to play in one professional hockey game. … It’s been awesome.”
Highlights of Bonvie’s career were shown on the large video screen before, during and after the game. Friends and family members, including his wife, Kelly; children Rhys and Davyn; brother Herb; sister Sara; and parents Kevin and Cathy filled a luxury box to celebrate the night.
“This has been like a second home to us,” said Kelly Bonvie. “We really feel a closeness to this area and the people that live here. We’ve made countless friends. We’ve made friends that will remain friends for the rest of our lives.”
With 6:54 remaining in the game, Bonvie gave what many in the crowd of 8,370 – the largest of the season – were looking for when he hooked up in a fight with Admiral defenseman Jay Rosehill.
The players exchanged several jabs, although neither one was knocked to the ice. The fight ended with both players tapping each other lightly on the head in appreciation and Rosehill raising Bonvie’s hand in victory.
“I asked him if he wanted to (fight) and he did,” said Bonvie, who surpassed the 200 mark in penalty minutes for the 12th time in his career. The fight also increased Bonvie’s career mark in penalty minutes to more than 4,800. “There was no bad blood at all. He did a good job and I did a good job. He told me it was an honor to fight me. It gave the fans one last cheer.”
It was one of the many times Herb Bonvie has seen his brother drop his gloves with an opponent.
“I always get some butterflies in my stomach,” Herb said. “There’s always a chance of someone getting hurt. But he’s been around a long time and he knows what he’s doing. He’s just doing his job and it’s part of the game.”
Bonvie’s parents watched their son’s regular season finale after making the long trip from Nova Scotia.
“He’s had an unbelievable career,” said Kevin Bonvie. “We’re ecstatic for him. He’s come a long way. But he’s been very determined and focused since day one.”
“It’s a very special night,” added Cathy Bonvie. “We’ve been going to his hockey games for more than 15 years. The people around here have been great to Dennis and his family.”
Herb Bonvie said the Wilkes-Barre area will always have a special place in his brother’s heart.
“He’s been a fan-favorite everywhere he’s been,” he said. “But it’s been even bigger here. You see all of the signs, you hear the ovations, it’s unbelievable.”
Despite the loss, the Penguins clinched the AHL East Division championship.
“It says a lot about the people in this locker room,” said Bonvie. “These guys are special. It’s been great to be on the ice with them. I owe a lot to them and to my family.”
“I asked him if he wanted to (fight) and he did. There was no bad blood at all. He did a good job and I did a good job. He told me it was an honor to fight me.”