Gordy Bonnel goes out on top winning championship with Hat Tricks

by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

Jonny Ruiz knew he’d be the first member of the Danbury Hat Tricks to hoist the Commissioner’s Cup. And the captain also knew whom he was going to hand the Cup to next.

What he didn’t know was how long before he should put the trophy in the hands of his best friend and longtime teammate, Hat Tricks alternate captain Gordy Bonnel.

“I asked (assistant coach Tyler Noseworthy) ‘How long do I go for?’ And he said, ‘You can go as long as you like,’” Ruiz explained. “I wanted to give it to Gordy as soon as possible. So, I did a quick lap, looked over at him and screamed his name, gave it to him and gave him a big hug. His excitement was unbelievable. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”

That’s the type respect Ruiz, his teammates and the coaches had for Bonnel, the heart and soul forward who'd been with the Hat Tricks since their inaugural season in 2019-20. Get the Cup into Gordy’s hands ASAP.

Of course, Ruiz knew of another reason Bonnel should be a major focus of the organization’s first FPHL championship. The 3-2 overtime win in Game 5 of the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Series against the Carolina Thunderbirds at Danbury Arena was Bonnel’s last game as a pro.

The 30-year-old went out a champion when Michael Marchesan scored the OT winner. And Ruiz was ready with a postgame ceremony to honor Bonnel, making a speech and putting the No. 9 jersey on a hangar, placing it in his locker.

“We knew we needed to do something for him and we always joked about doing the (Wayne) Gretzky photo from his last game with the jersey hanging in his locker with the name facing out,” Ruiz explained. “I figured he’d do it normal but then he said ‘I’m doing it this way with the Danbury logo out front because all you guys are my brothers.'

“I was like ‘Oh man, can I cry any more? Open the floodgates.' It was very moving.”

In a nutshell, that’s Gordy Bonnel. It’s always been about the team.

“The toughest thing to give up is the leadership, helping other guys grow,” Bonnel said about retirement. “I love playing the game, obviously, but it warms my heart in a big way to be able to have helped those guys.”

Bonnel’s leadership was about saying the right thing at the right time and providing an example, on and off the ice, about what it is to be a member of the Hat Tricks. He played in pain much of his Danbury tenure, missing two months this season due to injury, inspiring teammates with his grit and determination.

He also produced. Bonnel is third all-time in Hat Tricks history with 102 points in 96 games. He’s second behind Ruiz (86) with 68 assists.

And when it mattered most, Bonnel delivered in the playoffs this season. Bonnel had seven points (one goal, six assists) in 10 postseason games, including five assists in the five elimination games the Hat Tricks played on their way to winning the FPHL title.

“He’s everything,” Danbury coach and general manager Billy McCreary said. “He cares so much and it shows in his play. Talk about sacrifice, he’s the ultimate example of someone willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. Everyone rallies around Gordy -- the blocked shots, the big hits, the big goals he scores.

“We couldn’t have done what we did this year without the likes of Gordy.”

Yet, listening to Bonnel, you’d think he was the fortunate one in this relationship.

“I couldn’t be any more blessed,” he said. “This game has brought me so much else other than just hockey and a championship. I’ve gained lifelong friendships and a second home in Danbury.”

All told, Bonnel had 141 points (47 goals, 94 assists) in 137 FPHL games with Mentor and Danbury. He also played a season in Canada and, at his father’s urging, one in the Czech Republic and two in Sweden.

“Living in Europe helped me grow as a man,” Bonnel explained. “It’s about making a life outside of the game. And it helped make me who I am when I came over here and eventually won the championship.”

After Bonnel’s retirement ceremony in the Hat Tricks locker room, his teammates began chanting “One more year!” The Maryland native laughed, knowing his mind was made up.

The next chapter -- after some well-deserved R&R -- consists of starting his own detailing business and helping his dad build homes.

Bonnel says he’ll be back in Danbury to visit. But Ruiz is sad knowing the guy who lockered next to him and rode shotgun to practices and games the past three seasons won’t be there every day.

“He was the biggest puzzle piece, the glue that kept everything together,” Ruiz said. “Our relationship is unbelievable. It’s like having another big brother. He helped me off the ice, as well as on, and was probably the smartest player in the league.

“I’m very blessed to have had him as my teammate and as one of my closest friends now.”

Photos: Chris Rutsch