"BONINO! BONINO! BONINO!"
That chant echoed throughout the Pens locker room following their 3-2 victory over San Jose in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at CONSOL Energy Center, while Bryan Rust awarded Nick Bonino the Warrior Helmet for scoring the winner late in the third period.
The cheer originated from the goal call of Harnarayan Singh, the play-by-play broadcaster for “Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi,” on Bonino’s series-clinching overtime winner in Game 6 of the Second Round against Washington.
"If you’re watching the playoffs at all, you can’t help but see them," Bonino said. "They’re all over social media. Guys back home are just getting a kick out of them."
And so are the guys here in Pittsburgh.
“We have a big group chat with our team and I think someone threw it on there, I’m not really sure,” said forward Eric Fehr. “It’s quite the goal call and I haven’t heard last night’s, but I heard that one’s unbelievable too.”
The players are having a blast with it as Bonino continues to net clutch goals for the Pens. He’s got four this postseason, all of which have come in either the third period of overtime.
“That’s one of the most fun things we’ve got going right now,” Fehr laughed.
Even the coaching staff has gotten in on it.
"We think they’re great," head coach Mike Sullivan said with a smile. "We actually threw them in the game review for our guys to listen to. They got a kick out of it. It’s entertaining, that’s for sure."
That’s just a glimpse into the team dynamic, where Bonino has become such an important member of the Pens both on and off the ice – which is something Ben Lovejoy, who played with him in Anaheim, knew would happen.
“I was so excited last summer when we picked him up,” Lovejoy said. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve played with and just an awesome teammate in the room. I’m really happy for the success he’s been having.”
After learning he had been traded to the Pens from Vancouver, Bonino made sure to put in the work to get to know his new teammates, arriving to Pittsburgh before he was expected to report – which is something that stuck out to the captain.
“He came in this year and got here early and got to know guys a lot,” Sidney Crosby said. “It was nice that he was here early. When you get a new guy, I think once camp started, it felt like he’d been here for a while. So we have a lot of fun, I think, as a group and he’s right in there with that mix.”
Bonino certainly fit in off the ice right away, and while it took a little longer on the ice, Bonino has developed into the player that management and the coaching staff knew he was capable of being.
Everyone talks about how cerebral Bonino is on the ice – Lovejoy called him ‘one of the smartest guys I’ve played with in the NHL.’ That intelligence is what allows him to have so much success centering the ‘HBK Line’ along with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin.
“He’s so skilled that I think once he got paired with some really fast guys, it just showed how well he thinks the game because he thinks at that pace even though he’s not the fastest guy,” said Beau Bennett, who sits next to Bonino in the locker room and called him one of his better friends on the team.
And his teammates say the former Boston University Terrier is just as intelligent off the ice, especially when it comes to chirps.
“He’s very quick-witted,” Bennett said. “He’s one of the smarter guys on our team. So stay away from making fun of him because you know you’ll get it worse.”
But for as much as he can give it, Bonino can take it as well.
“He is the best guy at getting picked on I’ve ever played with,” Lovejoy joked. “He handles it so well, he loves giving it back and forth. He is just a pleasure to have around.”
Behind the scenes, the 28-year-old has done a tremendous job of leading in his own way. For example, Bennett pointed to how helpful Bonino was when the two of them were rehabbing from injuries together at the start of the season, saying he was a good guy to bounce things off of.
“He’s a real calm, cool and collected guy,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I don’t think his heart rate gets too high. He just goes about his job. I think he’s great with his linemates. He’s great with the young players. He’s a reassuring presence both in the locker room and on the bench, and you can see it in his play. His calm demeanor. He’s the same way with his personality, and I think that helps our group.”
And that’s what has helped Bonino be able to produce at key moments in games.
“I think just the biggest thing for me is to try to stay even keel,” he said. “Not change my game whether it’s Game 1 of the season or the Stanley Cup Final. I think that allows me just to kind of stay within the moment there. And when you get passes like I’ve gotten and pucks to the net like ‘Hagy’ did against Washington, and the pass from ‘Tanger,’ it makes it a lot easier to score those goals.”
Which the guys hope keep coming.
“We want him to keep scoring so we can keep yelling out the ‘BONINO! BONINO! BONINO!’” Fehr said with a laugh.