From the moment Kyle Bonis pulled on a Traverse City North Stars sweater, scoreboards around the NAHL started lighting up.
The most prolific goal-scorer in the Stars’ four-year history will be taking his lamp-lighting predilections about 100 miles south next fall after committing to play at Ferris State University.
He is the 25th player who competed in January's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament to commit to a Division I program following the event.
“It actually hasn’t really even hit me yet,” said Bonis, who levied 98 points in 96 career contests with Traverse City. “I’m going through some of the paperwork, getting some things lined up, and I still can’t put it into words. It’s an absolute dream come true.”
Bonis, who served as team captain in 2008-09, tied a team mark with 25 goals in 39 games last season, then topped that mark with 30 more in 2008-09. He also led the NAHL with eight game-winners and was second in shots on goal with 216.
“I’ve only been here for two of the seasons, but it’s no stretch to say that Kyle is one of the best - if not the best - offensive player that has ever played here,” said Stare head coach Anthony Palumbo. “And people see all the goals and assists and offensive production, but what they don’t necessarily see if how hard of a worker he is, how dedicated he is to the game.”
Bonis enjoyed a stellar two-season run in Hockeytown North, with 26 multiple-point games, seven three-point outings, and nine game-winning goals. He had a career-high four-point night on Mar. 1, 2008 against Marquette - including a hat trick against the Rangers - and collected a “playmaker” (three assists) three times in his career.
His extended 2008-09 holiday season proved historically fruitful, as the ginger-tressed winger compiled 30 points over a 19-game run that spanned from Nov. 28 through Jan. 31.
“I’ve been playing junior hockey since I was 14,” explained Bonis, who graduated with a 3.4 GPA. “I’ve been away from home since I was a junior in high school. Juniors either makes or breaks you, and if there’s one thing you have to learn, it’s time management. So that aspect of college shouldn’t be much of a culture-shock.”
Bonis began his career with the Bancroft of the OPJHL in 2005, scoring 45 goals in 66 games with the Hawks. He spent the last half of 2006-07 with the OPJHL’s Port Hope Predators, collecting 36 points in 35 games before joining the USHL’s Indiana Ice.
“Coming to Traverse City kind of resurrected my career,” said Bonis, a Lindsay, Ontario, native. “I went to the USHL with a lot of Division I schools talking to me, and when it didn’t work out there, Coach Palumbo took me on a leap of faith. He made me a better player, especially defensively, and deserves a lot of credit. Traverse City really welcomed me with open arms, I had a lot of great teammates and friends, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Bonis will be one of several former and current North Stars slated for duty in the CCHA, including Kyle Jean and Dan Radke (Lake Superior State), Patrick Nagorsen and Travis Paeth (Western Michigan), Kory Kaunisto (Northern Michigan), David Johnstone (Michigan State), Eric Elmblad (Michigan) and Nick Von Bokern (Nebraska-Omaha).
Current North Stars tender Tyler Marble is also committed to Lake Superior State, while at least 20 others are already playing for or committed to other NCAA programs.
“It’s that atmosphere that makes college hockey so appealing,” said Bonis, who plans to major in Business Administration. “You’ve got the fans going nuts, the pep band playing, and you walk around campus and everyone knows how the team is doing. I couldn’t be any more excited about it.”
Palumbo says Bonis has the right combination of qualities to make the most of his opportunity.
“He obviously has the ability, but when you combine that with his winning attitude and work ethic, that’s a recipe for success at the next level,” said Palumbo, who captained Lake Superior State to a national title in 1989. “I’m not trying to take anything away from anyone else who has played here, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our record improved from the day that Kyle Bonis showed up. Natural goal-scorers are always hard to find, but when the goal-scorer is a great team guy, too, you know he’s a special player.”
Bonis isn’t certain what his role will be on a Ferris squad that featured former Grand Traverse Hockey Association products Corey Couturier and Zach Redmond, but he says he’s aiming high.
“I’d like to play in a minimum of 25 games, and just try to be the best player that the coaches want me to be,” he explained. “I’m home working on the farm, working out, and will be 100 percent ready to do whatever they ask of me come (fall). It’s a tremendous honor to get this far, I just want to be sure I can make the most of it.”
Bonis also says that realizing his dream of playing Division I college hockey is also a tribute to his family.
“My parents have been sponsors, cheerleaders and psychiatrists - some combination of those depending on the situation,” he said. “My family has been so supportive throughout these years, and I owe them so much. This is as great a victory for them as it is for me.”
The 24 other NAHL players to commit to a Division I school after the Top Prospects Tournament are: Alaska Avalanche defenseman Jason Cohen (American International College); Bismarck Bobcats goaltender Matt Grogan (University of Connecticut); Fairbanks Ice Dogs forwards Paul Kirtland (Ohio State University) and Eric Kraft (Lake Superior State University); defenseman Brandon Martell (Ohio State) and goaltender Phil Cook (Minnesota State-Mankato); Mahoning Valley Phantoms defensemen Carl Nielsen (Michigan Tech University) and Cullen Lundholm (Robert Morris University); Marquette Rangers forward Chad Pietila (Northern Michigan University) and Reed Rushing (Bowling Green State University); Motor City Machine forward Ryan Misiak (Mercyhurst College); North Iowa Outlaws forwards Brandon Brodhag (Merrimack College), Alex Carlson (Ohio State) and Ryan Peltoma (Bowling Green); Owatonna Express defenseman Tim Smith; Springfield Jr. Blues forward Trent Frey (Mercyhurst); St. Louis Bandits forward Brendan Sheehan (Niagara University) defenseman Tyler Elbrecht (Minnesota State-Mankato) and goaltender Keith Kinkaid (Union); Topeka RoadRunners goaltender Bryce Merriam (RPI) and forward Steve Shafer (Canisius College); and Wenatchee Wild forwards Ducan McKellar (Bemidji State University) and Mitch Torrel (Air Force) and goaltender Mathieu Dugas (Bemidji State).
View the complete NAHL college list here.