One-on-one with new Worcester Sharks enforcer Jimmy Bonneau

Jimmy Bonneau in action for the Hamilton Bulldogs during the 2010-11 AHL season. Photo courtesy of www.sharksahl.com

Special thank you to Jimmy Bonneau and Eric Lindquist for the opportunity.  Enjoy.

How did signing with Worcester earlier this week come about?
I was working out and {Worcester General Manager} Wayne Thomas called me.  The offer came and it was a good offer that I wasn’t expecting.  Its given me more stability and when I talked to him, it felt like a good opportunity.  He told me exactly what they were looking for, and it was a place where I thought I could be happy while getting a chance to improve my game by playing.  I’m really happy.

How did you first become interested in hockey?
I started when I was three-years-old playing with little sticks and learning how to skate.  When I turned four, it was the first year I was allowed to play and never stopped.  It has always been in my blood.

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to be a pro hockey player?
I’ve always dreamed of being a pro hockey player since being a kid in pee wees.  It comes to a point where you don’t know if it’s going to happen but its been my dream and I’ve worked towards it by never giving up.  I got into minor hockey followed by major midgets and those were the first steps.  Then, I got drafted into major juniors, made the team, things went well and I got drafted into the NHL.  My main goal is to make it to the NHL but I’m still happy I get to make a living playing hockey.

What did you enjoy most about playing for the Montreal/Prince Edward Island Rockets of the QMJHL?
I loved playing in the Q.  It was the best time of my life.  I was a big part of the team and a fan favorite.  The team had sold out crowds nearly every game with a huge vibe as everyone loves the team and it was awesome.  Prince Edward Island was phenomenal.  I still live there during the summer and I love everything about it.

Not many people know that you played alongside Canucks Max Lapierre and under Canucks coach Alain Vigneault in the Q.  What was Lapierre like as a teammate, as he’s not popular amongst San Jose fans, and how was coach Vigneault?
I also played with {Ryan} Clowe my first year in juniors.  Yeah, I saw comments about Lapierre during the playoffs {laughs}.  I played all my junior years with Lapierre and he is a pesk {laughs} who gets under people’s skin on the ice.  As a teammate though, he was a good guy and good teammate who matured a lot through juniors.  We got along good.  I don’t have bad things to say about him.  He works hard and has his own style of play that has worked for him as he’s been in the NHL for five-years now.  He’s always been a good friend, not best friend, but we’re nice to each other.
Coach Vigneault was amazing.  He really gave me a shot to play more and work on the little details of my game to become a smart hockey player.  I came in with a lot of toughness and a lot of stuff to work on.  Coach Vigneault gave me confidence and allowed me to play.  He had so much knowledge about hockey and I was privileged/fortunate to have had him at the junior level as a quality coach who helped me tremendously in our two-and-a-half years.

You accumulated 758 penalty minutes in three seasons {252.6 per} in the Q yet only have 553 in the AHL since the 2006-07 season.  What do you attribute that decline to?
There are not as many fighting majors in the AHL as in the Q because the guys are tough, too big and too everything to be able to fight as much.  You can’t fight 35-36 times in the AHL.  There is just no way.  I’m averaging 10 fights in pro per season with tough guys and the toll is too hard on your body.  Other than that, all my penalty minutes in the Q were before the NHL lockout and my first pro year was right after the lockout ended.  The game totally changed.  Ask guys before the lockout and they will tell you that players led the league in penalty minutes with 400-450.  Now, the league leader in penalty minutes has between 200-250.  Again, the game has changed, and you can’t be an idiot and take as many penalties.  There’s a lot more to it and you’ve got to be able to play more.  You can’t rack up penalties just to rack them up.  I have a job to do and that is fighting.  You fight when you NEED to fight as it proves you’re not an idiot and it shows your teammates that you won’t pick up stupid penalties.

Do you remember anything specific about the day you were drafted by the Montreal Canadians in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft?
I remember pretty much everything.  It was a big thing for me as I wasn’t seen as a guy who was going to get drafted since age 13 or 14.  I played for the Rockets that season {2002-03} and was really physical that year as I got into a lot of scraps.  It was only then I realized I might get a chance to go in the draft.  My agent said I had a good chance and flew me out.  I was a little nervous but it was a great experience seeing all the NHL Legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Cam Neely, etc., as I had never been in any event like that and was just enjoying everything.  When I heard my name called, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.  I was so happy and excited about everything that came with it afterwards such as meeting the people, all the sponsors and putting the jersey on.  It was just surreal as I didn’t expect it to happen and had never been in anything that amazing before.

Having spent time in the ECHL with Cincinnati and Long Beach, do you think the league is underrated by fans?
The ECHL is very underrated by fans.  There are tons of very good players there.  I played with Jaroslav Halak in Long Beach {2005-06 season}, who would have been MVP had the Montreal Canadians made the Stanley Cup finals {2009-10 season}, and David Desharnais in Cincinnati {2007-08 season}, who is still underrated and will surprise a lot people with the Montreal Canadians.  I played with great players in a great league with good hockey.  Instead of entering the NHL at age 21 or 22, it might take a few years and you may enter the NHL from the ECHL at 24 or 25 but you can still be a star.  At first, I was thinking I’d rather not go play in the ECHL but now, I can see its done a lot for me and my development.

Out of all your stops in the AHL {Hamilton, Rochester, Portland}, which team was the most fun to play on?
I’ve had a blast with every team I’ve played on.  It’s always different but kind of the same.  The one I had the most fun with was Rochester.  We had an older team with older guys who had experience, baggage, good stories, and were funny and mature.  I had fun in other places too but what I love the most about hockey is it’s my job.  Not everyone can wake up and say they look forward to work.  I get to go to the rink everyday, and it’s a treat and fun.

When did you first realize that you enjoyed being the team enforcer?
My first year in juniors.  I had never fought in my life.  I showed up to training camp and was in good shape.  I wanted to make the team as you only get one shot.  I got on the ice and I wasn’t horrible but I told myself ‘I’m not one of the 20 best players here.  How can I do something to get noticed?’  I started dropping the gloves and it worked.  I was seen as the toughest guy in juniors.  What I love about being the enforcer is that you get a ton of respect from your teammates and the fans usually like you.  It’s not very hard.  I’m not going to think about it weeks beforehand.  I’m going to stay calm, focus on my game and stay classy.  I’ll check out what he {opposing enforcer} does, his strength, his size, etc.  I’ll focus on my game and the rest just comes naturally.  If it has to happen, I’m ready to go as I’ve fought nearly 300 times in my career.  I don’t stress over it as there is nothing you can do.  Either it will happen or it won’t and it will be during the game.  But again, I don’t bother myself too much about it as I love to smile and have fun.  The only reason we {enforcers} do what we do is to win games.  If it helps and I can contribute, cool.  If not, I have to find another way to contribute.

Did you have a favorite enforcer growing up?
Growing up, my favorite player was Cam Neely.  I loved the style of the player he was.  I remember he was doing it all as a big tough guy who could score.

Curt Gogol said that he practiced his fighting techniques with his dad {Brent} growing up.  Do you practice your fighting techniques?
I don’t really practice to be honest.  I know what to do.  I do boxing in the summer but not to improve my hockey fighting.  It’s more for my cardio, and I enjoy boxing training and the art of it.  I train really hard in the gym for everything.  As for fighting techniques, I don’t really do it as I’ve picked up techniques along the way for when the real stuff happens during the game.  You get better at fighting the more you fight.

What are your feelings towards the critics that constantly state enforcers are nothing but "goons" who can’t skate/play and that their antics have no place in the game?
Lots of people have that mentality.  Even people in Montreal have that mentality.  Some people don’t like the rough stuff and would like to see more guys with fierce skills on all four lines.  Those people would be surprised to learn that we {enforcers} can play.  We can skate and shoot.  I put up 25 points in juniors and while it’s not unbelievable, it’s not bad either.  Obviously, I don’t have the speed of a first or second line guy or the shot and hands of a power play guy but I can do the little things well, such as positioning, finishing off hits and getting in front of nets.  When I go back to Prince Edward Island in the summer and play with friends, we are all good players and can play.  It’s such a high level of hockey in both the AHL and NHL that you have to find a way to chip in.  It’s pretty rare to see the most physical guy on the team being the best player.  Being physical is a skill and a plus as hockey is a physical game.  I personally think a lot of guys’ hockey skills are underrated.  The fourth liners get less ice time and people don’t understand that if you sit on the bench 8-9 minutes and then come out for a shift, you don’t have the momentum as a guy who keeps getting out there.  But you have to be ready to work.  It doesn’t matter how long your shift is or how long you get to play.  You have to be ready to give 100 percent.  I think to have the most successful team, you need to have a well balanced team with grit, power play, penalty kill, offense, defense and goaltending.

Is there any fight of yours that sticks out more than others?
My ones in Rochester against Jon Mirasty, who was with the Syracuse Crunch at the time.  He was famous in the AHL for going toe-to-toe in fist fights.  He’s a short, stocky guy who would be a scary dude if taller and is tough as nails.  His hockey level isn’t that great but he’s a very entertaining fighter and a pure enforcer.  It was a big rivalry and we fought 9-10 times one season.  You knew it was going to happen.  It wasn’t staged.  It was just rivalry as there was always stuff happening such as dirty and clean hits along with guys chirping and getting physical.

Does it feel weird being viewed as a veteran despite your young age?
Not really.  Hamilton had a young team last year.  Personally, if you’re an enforcer, you have to bring leadership.  You have to be a guy that’s fun to be around, a guy that doesn’t get into trouble and almost be best friends of guys on the team as they need to trust you.  If you’re older, it makes things easier as the guys will come and look for you.  Even if you’re a young enforcer, say 22, and the rest of the team is 27 or 28, you still have to bring leadership.  It might be a little harder being a young enforcer who has less experience but it’s better for them.  Being with younger guys, you know they are going to listen and by trusting me, they know I have their back.

Have you gotten a chance to check out your cyber character in the new NHL 12 video game by EA Sports?
No but I bet he’s slow {laughs}.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was probably heading into training camp.  It was in juniors.  They told us to go out there and don’t think.  Do something that is going to stand out and make people remember who you are.  There will be 60 players in camp.  If you think you’re doing good, it doesn’t mean they {coaches} are seeing it.  If you are playing and are skating and nothing crazy is happening, maybe its time you realize you grab someone, take care of them and someone will see it.  About five minutes into the first inter-squad game, I grabbed a guy and beat the pits out of him.  Don’t just be there and be polite.  You got to stick out so people will remember you.

What goes through your mind in the locker room before taking the ice?
Just getting ready and excited.  I go through my routine before the game.  I’m focused on what I got to do.  I listen to one of my favorite songs, usually hard rock, to get pumped up.  I’m excited everytime and am pumped up before every game.  I’ve never had a game where I’m like ‘blah, I don’t want to go play tonight.’  On game day, I’ve already been at the rink for two-and-a-half hours prior so I’m ready to get on the ice.

Who are your favorite rock bands?
Motley Crue, Guns and Roses, Avenge Sevenfold, Slipknot, Buckcherry, Foo Fighters, Dropkick Murphys, Rev Theory as I loved their new album and any rock band.  I’m not a huge fan of country or rap but will listen to a bit of rap.  I’m mostly into 80’s rock music, grunge, punk and anything that’s got guitar riffs and intense signing.  I go to concerts all the time outside of hockey as I love music.  I wish I could play myself.  I tried to pick up the guitar a few years ago and I gave it a good run for three months but I was made to listen to music, not play it {laughs}.

If you weren’t playing hockey, what would you be doing for a living?
I don’t know {laughs}. Definitely go to school as I didn’t get to go to a university to play, which I was interested in as a youngster.  Being a teacher would be an option.  At a pretty young age, I put all my eggs in the same basket of being a hockey player.  It’s going to be my seventh year of playing professional hockey and I love it.  I want to stay in hockey if possible once I’m done playing.  It doesn’t matter if its coaching or front office, I just love the atmosphere so much.  Going to the rink is my favorite part of the day as I love being around the guys.  I’ll take any job that keeps me around this environment and what I love.

Any significance to your jersey number or do you wear what’s assigned?
I’ve had 44 a lot.  I’ve also worn 24, 27 and this year I’ll be 43.  Not much importance into that.  As long as they don’t give me 99 {laughs}, I don’t care.

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