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Summer with Stanley

Nick Bonino uses Cup for good cause

Penguins center donates $10,000 to Connecticut Children's Medical Center

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Some kids approached cautiously. One wouldn't take his head off his father's shoulder. One wore a Sidney Crosby jersey. One came draped in Montreal Canadiens gear. They were in a room off the entrance of the Connecticut Children's Medical Center to see one thing: the Stanley Cup. They would take a picture with its owner for the day, Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bonino, as well.

This was a stop planned by Bonino almost as soon as he realized that he would have this day.

"It means the world to me," Bonino said, still gripping the Cup on his way out of the hospital. "We jumped at the chance to donate some money, first of all, and then we wanted to come and meet some patients and meet the people who do surgery on them and treat them all the time.

"These are the moments that I think the Cup makes so special."

It became even more so when Bonino, with his wife Lauren and seven-month-old daughter Maisie, unveiled a $10,000 check for the hospital, including money raised at his alma mater, Avon Old Farms, in the afternoon and a $4,000 donation from Uber.

"This was one of his main plans," Bonino's father, Steve, said. "It's hockey players, all of the athletes, they all do it. But this is special. You look at this as a parent and you're like, wow, I guess you did something right.

"He's a humble kid. He's a good kid. We have a daughter, they're just great kids. But this, this just warms your heart."

The day had started at 9 a.m., when the Cup was delivered to Bonino by Mike Bolt, of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and would last until midnight when Bolt reclaimed it on his way to Michigan for defenseman Ian Cole's day with the trophy. But for 15 hours, it belonged to Bonino, and he would get his money's worth - and raise some more along the way.

It was a schedule packed enough - and, on a day that approached 100 degrees in Connecticut, hot enough - that it necessitated at least four outfit changes, including one in a car.

There was an abbreviated round of golf and a lunch eaten out of the Cup with his grandparents - "I think that was the one memory I'll cherish the most, my Nana and Papa there, kissing the Cup and eating pasta out of it was something I'll never forget, for sure" - and a photo session with the public at Avon Old Farms and two private parties at night.

"Somehow I thought I'd play nine holes with it in 30 minutes," Bonino said, laughing.

He didn't quite make it. There wasn't enough time. He had places to get to and people waiting for him there.

The first fans had arrived on campus at Avon Old Farms around 7 a.m., and a line started forming around 10. There were between 4,000 and 5,000 people at the school yard by the corn fields outside of Hartford, a school that has produced three Stanley Cup champions and two of the four American Conn Smythe winners (Brian Leetch and Jonathan Quick).

"It's very humbling," Bonino said. "I know a lot of it is for the Cup, probably most of it."

For him, too.

They came and they waited and they took pictures and they cheered and they donated to charity.

"Having a child and doing visits to children's hospitals with the Penguins and with the [Vancouver] Canucks and with the [Anaheim] Ducks, it's eye-opening," he said. "It definitely changes the way you look at life, those kids in there haven't had the best fortune, but you wouldn't know it by their demeanors, by the way they act. Especially with Maisie, I knew this platform was the way to maybe raise some money."

The outpouring might have been a bit overwhelming for a player who was hardly assured a future in the NHL when he came through the campus of Avon Old Farms. As John Gardner, in his 41st year as hockey coach at the school, said on Thursday, "He was awful," praising his hands and vision and bemoaning his skating.

"Nicky's a great example to use to young hockey players because when Nicky was a young player he wasn't that good," Gardner said. "He never made any of the select teams, he wasn't a surefire commitment, he didn't commit to [Boston University] until after his junior year at Avon. He was a late developer. I use him as an example of someone who really worked hard and because he worked hard, that's where he is."

Tweet from @AmalieBenjamin: Estimated 4,000-5,000 at Avon Old Farms for Nick Bonino's Cup day.

Yes, that's where he is: Back at Avon Old Farms, this time with the Cup.

It wasn't much more than a year ago that Bonino had been traded to the Penguins, a disappointing moment after he had established himself in Vancouver, bought a house, and settled in. But this day, one he started to imagine as a reality in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, getting shushed by Lauren in the kitchen of their rental in Pittsburgh in order not to jinx it, this made up for the initial difficulties. Winning the Stanley Cup tends to do that.

"It's just unbelievable," Steve Bonino said. "It's just absolutely incredible."

The day. The check. The Cup.

Tweet from @AmalieBenjamin: Nick Bonino raised $10,000 for Connecticut Children's Medical Center on his Cup day. Maisie celebrates in the Cup.

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