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Bonino Helps to Lead Preds Through Season with Experience, Humor

Nashville Centerman Possesses Comedic Skill, Veteran Wisdom Necessary During NHL Season

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Nick Bonino has a gift.

Yes, he makes a living playing hockey in the top League in the world, so that talent is a given. But the man his teammates call "Bones" is also blessed with the ability to make those around him laugh - and not just a fake chuckle.

Just the mention of his sneaky, dry sense of humor elicits wide grins, his fellow Preds no doubt recalling a moment of hilarity that's occurred over his past two-plus seasons in Nashville.

There was the night Bonino dressed in disguise as a fan seeking autographs from his favorite players during PredsFest, chirping them as he worked his way through the crowd.

"I guess I wasn't very surprised it was him doing that," Predators center Ryan Johansen laughed when recalling Bonino's transformation into "Reggie Hofferman."

Then, there's the flights across the continent, Bonino seated next to Preds Captain Roman Josi, goofing around the entire time.

"We play cards, and sometimes on a four-hour flight, it's pretty funny," Josi giggled. "[Defenseman Dan] Hamhuis and [Johansen] get pretty mad at us for just being stupid the whole flight. It's just a lot of nonsense. He's a really funny guy."

A veteran of almost 600 games, the 31-year-old Bonino knows when to pick his spots on the comedic scale, and that's part of the job for the team's well-versed class clown.

"I just like to have fun, I like to come to the rink and smile and joke with guys, give it to guys and get it back," Bonino explained. "We play a pretty fun sport, we have great jobs, and when we come in here, I try to keep it light, and keep guys happy."

Video: Bonino dresses up as a fan to trick his teammates

Of course, winning also breeds contentment. The Predators have done so on 12 occasions through the season's first two months, but those in the room admit those victories haven't come with as much regularity as they would prefer.

That's where a player like Bonino comes in - someone who is particularly adept at gauging the temperature around the club, saying something if it needs to be said and leading by example in a way that earns the respect of his peers.

"It's important just to have a positive attitude," Bonino said. "We went through a stretch where we weren't winning, and I think all of us focused on staying positive. We're doing a lot of good things, and even now we're not getting points like we want, but we're salvaging some, getting to overtime, and I think for the most part, as players and coaches, we've done a good job of staying positive. We're staying upbeat, finding the good in what we're doing and trusting that if we keep putting work into it, good things should come out of it."

Now in his 11th NHL season, Bonino speaks from experience. He's a two-time Stanley Cup champion in back-to-back seasons with Pittsburgh. After he won it for the second time, Bonino inked a four-year deal with the club on the other side of the handshake line in June of 2017, a franchise he believed - and still does - has what it takes to get back to that point again.

Bonino is doing his part too. Arguably the best two-way player on the Nashville roster, Bonino shares the team lead in goals with 10, a satisfying total at the start of December. Even with his 16 points in 27 games, it's clear where Bonino's largest source of pride on the ice comes from on a nightly basis.

"I get more angry when I get scored on than I do happy if I score sometimes," Bonino said. "I don't like to be beaten by other teams' top lines with the role I'm in."

The desire to keep the puck out of his own net is a main driver for Bonino, and his ability at both ends of the ice is front of mind for those who know him best.

"He impresses me, and I'm sure the rest of his teammates, with the way he thinks the game," Johansen said of Bonino. "His hockey sense and how he reads plays, how he's kind of a step ahead in the mental part of the game out there - he just reads plays so well. It's like he's almost got an edge on everyone because he's got such great hockey IQ. He's just very detailed person and player, and it shows in his game."

He may not wear a letter on his sweater, but Bonino is also part of Nashville's leadership group, and rightfully so. He's not the loudest guy, but there isn't much Bonino hasn't been through over the past decade, and it's times like these when he's looked to for some added stability.

"He's won [the Stanley Cup] twice, so he knows what it takes," Johansen said. "He's seen it, he's been through it, and from those experiences for him, there's no surprises. That's something he brings to our team is that wisdom and the experience of being through all that. It's a no-brainer to have him as a leader."

The Predators have points in five of their last six games, but Tuesday's overtime loss to Tampa Bay left a disappointing feeling among the group. It's outings like that, Bonino believes, which will provide the Preds with the necessary adversity on the roller coaster that is an NHL season.

"You go through ups and downs, and hopefully it'll help later on," Bonino said. "But that being said, it's a tough League to climb back up in. There are so many good teams, especially in our division, that if we don't get points soon, it's going to be that much harder. We all know the stakes, we've addressed them consistently, and we need to start winning consistently."

If there's one thing the Predators believe, it's that they have the group to be successful with regularity, Bonino included. So, whether he's cracking a joke or tickling the twine, No. 13 has no shortage of tricks up his sleeve.

"On paper, we're one of the best teams in the League, and we just need to realize that," Bonino said. "We need to play like it, play with a little bit of swagger that, when we win, it seems like we're playing with. It comes down to work and confidence, and when you have those two things going, you're going to win games, so that's our focus now."

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