Although many kids had hockey dads pushing them, Nick Bonino didn't need any prodding to explore an athletic life that built him into a versatile Ducks center who was recently awarded a $5.7-million contract extension through 2016-17.
It started with a simple conversation that took place in nearly every Connecticut household, when Bonino's father, Steve, asked his then-3-year-old son if he wanted to learn to ice skate.
"Yep, let's do it," the kid answered.
It wasn't just hockey. Bonino arranged after-school basketball games in his frontyard each day the weather allowed. He was a Little League baseball player, dabbled in soccer and wrestled undersized in his high school's 103-pound division.
"For me, every season was a different sport," Bonino said.
Last March, however, his affinity for pickup games got the best of him when he opted to play some casual soccer inside Honda Center, tearing his right hamstring and being sidelined for six weeks.
He returned to score three playoff goals in the Ducks' first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, including the overtime game-winner in Game 5 in a series they eventually lost in seven games.
"You rip your hamstring like I did … the summer was important to focus more on stretching and building it up," Bonino said. "You want to play every day and be dependable."
This season, the 25-year-old is one of five to play every game for the second-place Ducks (18-7-5), averaging 16:07 of ice time as the fourth-line center. He also is used on the first power-play unit with stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and on penalty kill.
Bonino already has career highs of seven goals and 19 points. He also has helped a team historically bad in faceoffs by winning 50.4% of his draws, has nearly doubled his power-play time from last season and leads Ducks' forwards with 28 blocked shots.
"To succeed in this league, unless you're scoring 40 goals a year, you need to do everything — those little things get you ice time and hopefully let your team win," Bonino said.
"I love blocking shots. I play goalie in the summers, fooling around. You can see when I block shots, I go into a butterfly. If that puck comes to my face, I don't know what I'm going to do. Good thing it hasn't happened yet."
He "fooled around" in so many sports as a youngster, he began to excel in them. Bonino became so talented at lacrosse, Division I University of Denver offered a full scholarship. Bonino's lacrosse coach informed the recruiter, "He's a hockey player."
Bonino's high school growth spurt won attention from college elites Providence and New Hampshire, but he chose Boston University. He also was drafted in 2007 by the San Jose Sharks.
At BU, his team had eight current NHL players, including St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Nashville center Colin Wilson, San Jose center John McCarthy and Colorado forward Brandon Yip.
After the Sharks traded the rights to Bonino and goalie Timo Pielmeier to the Ducks for journeyman Kent Huskins and current Montreal wing Travis Moen in 2009, Bonino scored the tying goal with 17.4 seconds remaining against Miami (Ohio) to set up an overtime NCAA championship victory.
"We had an amazing team … to come that far and think of losing when we were down two goals in the final two minutes was just obscene," Bonino said. "To tie it up and win in overtime was just amazing, a memory I'll always have."
Now Bonino is emerging in the NHL.
"He's consistently getting better in every situation and getting credit for the things he's doing," veteran center Saku Koivu said. "Doing the little things right adds up, and he's getting the results."
When: 5 PST.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.
Etc.: The Ducks went 3-0 last season against the 2013 Stanley Cup champions. Chicago is dominant again, paced by forward Patrick Kane. Ducks second-line center Mathieu Perreault (lower body injury) did not go on the trip, which continues with a Saturday game in St. Louis. Center David Steckel and forward Emerson Etem were recalled from the AHL Norfolk Admirals on Thursday.
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