There’s one reason why Nicole McCafferty drove from Binghamton, N.Y. to Wilkes-Barre each of the last three days: Dennis Bonvie.
McCafferty’s son, Quinn, 7, was one of more than 50 children to participate in Dennis Bonvie’s Hockey Camp, which ran from June 9-11 at the Toyota Sportsplex. Bonvie, who played for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for five seasons and ended his career here in 2008, has held the camp for 16 years.
“I hoped it would become a tradition,” Bonvie said. “I’ve had some great years here and it’s an opportunity to give back and add to the great hockey program that’s already here. It’s nice to keep that going.”
While Bonvie retired nearly 10 years ago his popularity among the kids hasn’t waned. While he waited for the ice to be prepared for a second session on Saturday, kids approached Bonvie to shake his hand and say hello to their hero.
The admiration was mutual, Bonvie said.
“That’s what it’s all about. Some kids come in shy and by the end they’re hugging you and chasing you around the rink,” he said. “You try to be a positive influence, and when you see that come back, it’s gratifying.”
McCafferty said the opportunity to have her son learn the game from Bonvie and the other pros at the camp — Tom Kostopoulos and Shavertown’s Patrick McGrath — was a selling point for her.
“That’s what really interested us,” she said. “It’s not too far from home and we remember Dennis Bonvie when he played for the Binghamton Senators. We just thought it was a great opportunity for our son to improve his skills and get to meet great players.”
In addition to Bonvie, Kostopoulos and McGrath, long-time youth coach Don Tweedy also helped out at the camp.
Kostopoulos, who retired in April from the Penguins after his 19th season of pro hockey, said it’s amazing to see the growth of local hockey from when he began his career with the Penguins in 1999 to today.
“Just the enrollment in hockey locally and the level of instruction they’re getting, it’s really nice to see that,” Kostopoulos said. “It was awesome to see Pat McGrath play for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the last few years and I’m sure the Penguins will have a few more local players coming up in the next few years.”
Patrick Lakkis, 9, hopes to be one of the players that follows in McGrath’s footsteps. He participated in Bonvie’s camp for the second year and said the experience helped him improve his skating and stick work.
“It’s good to learn from people who played and really know what they’re talking about,” Lakkis said. “”It was a fun time and I’ll be back next year.”
Bonvie, who hails from Nova Scotia but calls Wilkes-Barre his second home, said he’ll keep holding the camp each summer as long as possible.
For as much as the kids enjoy learning from the pros, Bonvie cherishes the chance to teach them the hard work and fun that goes into the game.
“We’re trying to get more kids involved in hockey because it’s a wonderful game. It teaches you a lot of great things about life — work ethic, dedication and being regimented,” Bonvie said. “I really enjoy teaching that to the kids.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky