Jan 12, 2019
By Nick Nollenberger (@NickNollen)
One of the great beauties and purities of minor league sports is the spontaneity that can arise at a whim.
In 2015, Worcester Sharks enforcer and now assistant coach with the San Jose Barracuda, Jimmy Bonneau (aka Bones), was forced to turn in his healthy-scratch suit for goalie gear when starting netminder Troy Grosenick came down with a migraine headache less than an hour before puck drop on a Wednesday night in Portland, Maine.
What transpired over the next few hours will go down in Worcester lure, forever. Although Bonneau would never appear in the game, the story of that night still sits fresh in the minds of those who experienced it.
Jeremy Langlois scored three unanswered goals in the final period to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 win, but no one remembers the exact score or even that one player had essentially willed his team to victory. What everyone remembers from that night is that Jimmy Bonneau was the backup goalie.
Here are the accounts of the day “Bones Backed Up” from a handful of people who experienced it firsthand. Let’s set the scene…
It’s gameday. And the date is Wednesday, January 21, 2015. The temperature in Worcester, Massachusetts is 20°F and the Worcester Sharks are just wrapping up their morning skate at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester.
Troy Grosenick is the first one off the ice. He’s already been penciled in as the starter as J.P. Anderson will back him up in an important Atlantic Division matchup. The opponent that night, the Portland Pirates, AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes.
10-year veteran Jimmy Bonneau is one of the last players off. At this point in his career, Bonneau is only getting into about half of the games. The enforcer role in hockey is quickly going extinct. Bones had already checked the lineup on the whiteboard and knew he wasn’t playing that night, but he would make the bus trip as an extra.
The team bus was set to depart from Worcester at noon with a projected arrival to Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena at 3:45 p.m.
A standard AHL day in that region of the country, most teams bussed in the day of the game and left after. Classic minor leagues.
John McCarthy, Worcester Sharks Forward: “One of our goalies, Troy Grosenick, got sick. It was in Portland, so it was kind of a long bus ride and he wasn’t feeling good and when we got there, he just couldn’t go. They let Bones know he was going to be backing up so he put on Grossy’s gear. In Portland, the backup wasn’t on the bench but was instead across the way behind the net. I just remember we won the game because we had our little celebration on the ice and Bones comes bombing out onto the ice from the Zamboni tunnel to celebrate with the team. It was a hilarious situation.
My first year in the AHL we were still on the 80-game schedule and the teams were so close we would play the same team 10-to-12 times so things tended to get heated quicker. Moments like that definitely felt like you were in one of those old minor league hockey movies.
Eric Lindquist, Worcester Sharks Play-by-Play BroadcasterDuring warmups, Roy (Sommer) would generally find me and eat some popcorn and chat, but in Portland it’s like a 40-to-50 step hike up to the broadcast booth so Roy would never make his way up there. So, I’m setting up my equipment, and warmups are going on and I see Roy walking up the stairs. I may have already started my broadcast at this point, but I’m thinking to myself what heck is going on? At this point, my headset is on. I take it off when I see him and I ask him what’s going on? And he goes, Bones is goalie tonight. I go what? (laughs) What are you talking about? And he goes, Grossy’s too sick to play. So the next thing I know is, Bones is coming out for warmups. He’s out there wearing Grossy’s #1 jersey with Bonneau on the back and guys are hooting and hollering. J.P. Anderson ended up starting the game but I ran down after and got a picture of Bones in the backup goalie gear with a clipboard. The backup sits behind the net in the tunnel in Portland so he took a seat on the stool behind the glass as the backup.
It was one of those weird weeks where Bones was the backup goaltender, he was the play-by-play broadcaster and he was the assistant coach, all within a four or five game spell.
This happened right before warmups, so it’s rare for it to happen, obviously, but the way this one happened you still can’t predict something like that going on. It was 45 minutes before puck drop when Grossy all of the sudden said he felt dizzy and couldn’t go out there. Again, if you’re in Stockton and it’s 45 minutes before the game, you might be pressing for a forward or a defenseman to suit up.
This was back in 2015, so things have gotten a bit more structured at all levels of minor league hockey. You still hear the stories. In the ECHL earlier this year, a kid in Reading hadn’t played in six or seven years and he a came in and made 45 saves in a 2-1 win for Reading over Adirondack. You hear it in the NHL with the accountant stepping in for the Chicago Blackhawks. 
Troy Grosenick, Worcester Sharks Goaltender: I didn’t feel good on the bus and I was supposed to play that night. Before the game, I got this massive headache, like, a paralyzing headache. I just thought to myself, I just can’t go. I just remember talking to our trainer Whitey and telling him I wasn’t going to be able to play and they got me back to Worcester. Wayne Thomas, the goalie coach at the time, drove me back and I remember when I was leaving, they were trying to find Bones so they could dress him in my goalie gear. A couple days later, we had a good laugh. I was out a few days after that. Bones said, everything fit fine but there was no way I was going to put on your skates. He was on his stomach and the equipment guys were strapping him up like he was in mini mites.
We didn’t spend a lot of nights in hotels. Everything was day trips. We had Portland which was a few hours, Providence was less than an hour, Hartford was an hour, Bridgeport was a day trip, Manchester was an hour, so everything was usually a pregame skate at home, get on the bus and head on out. There were a few trips like St. John’s where we’d stay overnight, but there was a lot of three-in-threes. Both years I was in Worcester we had double-digit three-in-threes, so that was a nice change when we moved out to the west coast.
When you see an emergency backup come into an NHL game they usually have some sort of experience at the position whether it was in college or high school. Bones couldn’t put the pads on so who knows what would have happened had he actually gotten in the game.”
Jimmy Bonneau, Worcester Sharks Forward: “We were on the bus to Portland and it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour ride. During the bus ride, near the end, our starter that night, Troy Grosenick, got hit with a really bad headache. It was a quick turnaround and so we were looking for an extra goalie in the Portland area, but there was no real way of getting anyone in and that’s when my phone starts ringing. I’m up in the stands and I’ve got Roy and the trainers and everyone saying they might need me out here. I was thinking, I thought we had a lot of extras. And that’s when they’re like, we might need you to go in net, if you would. So, I’m like, yeah, if you can get me in Grossy’s gear we can go for it because there was a quite a bit of size difference. The trainers helped me out and strapped everything on me, got out there. Obviously, I just sat as a backup for the whole game. We had a comeback win, I think, we were down 2-0 and we made it back 3-2, so when we won I got to jump on the ice and go skate around with the guys and make the best of it. It was a good memory, everyone was laughing. The odds of me getting into the game where pretty much none and if I would have it would have been a debacle. Roy being Roy, said, if that happens, just go fight their goalie so we have more time to find another goalie to put in there.”
At this point in his career, Bonneau was essentially an extension of the coaching staff. Often consulting players, providing an additional pair of eyes and trying to keep the locker room light. Bonneau had served as an assistant coach a handful of games that season on an emergency basis, dressed as a defenseman and even broadcasted a game on January 4 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins when Sharks broadcaster Eric Lindquist was too sick to call the game.
Eric Lindquist: “You have times when you get a scratchy throat and you can fight through but I did not have a voice, whatsoever. Bones had been a color guy for me several times and enjoyed doing it so I went up to him and said, Bones you’re doing the play-by-play tonight. He got ready, called the entire game and I was his color guy. I think he even did a little bit of it in French, so the entire bus ride after the game the boys were playing it and laughing. Bones was actually pretty good, I was a little nervous about my job. At that time, they were weeding off the bonafide tough guy so he had to find other ways to fill in and help out. He called a heck of a game (laughs).
Troy Grosenick: The running joke was that Bones was going to do every job in hockey that year.
Jimmy Bonneau: "I’ve never been one to say no to stuff like that. I think it keeps the mood light, and through a long season, you need those little things to relax the atmosphere."
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