Port McNeill’s Ethan Bono is gearing up to once again play hockey on home ice.
Bono will be travelling back to his hometown with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for two preseason games on Sept. 17-18 against the Powell River Kings at the Chilton Regional Arena.
“I’m looking forward to playing again in front of my friends and family,” he said when asked to comment on the upcoming games.
The Bulldogs are hosting a practice with minor hockey players on Friday night and there will be a community fundraiser barbecue/meet and greet at 5 p.m. at the rink. Tickets for the Bulldogs exhibition games are available for purchase at www.albernivalleybulldogs.ca.
The Bulldogs are a BCHL team (Junior A level hockey), and this upcoming season will be Bono’s third year playing with them. He originally joined the Bulldogs during his second season of U18 hockey when he was just 16 years old.
“There’s very few 16 year olds playing Junior A,” Bono said, noting he was the only one on the Bulldogs team that was his age when he first signed with them. “There were a lot of older guys that had been there for awhile and they had a lot of experience, so getting to learn from them has been pretty great.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bono’s first two seasons with the Bulldogs were a bit of an unfortunate experience.
“My first year we started out playing 14 exhibition games,” he said, noting that league games kept getting pushed back until after January. “We were just sitting around practicing until finally we were lucky enough to get 20 games in against Vancouver Island teams.”
This last season was a better one, though. They were able to play every team, including the ones in the interior, but then covid unfortunately ramped up again and they weren’t allowed to travel off the island anymore, “but we still got a full season in, which was nice.”
As far back as Bono can remember he’s been obsessed with the sport of hockey. Early on, getting to watch his older brother Clayton play was one of the main reasons he wanted to become involved with the sport, and from that point he found himself excelling quickly as a player due to how much time he was spending practicing on and off the ice.
“Watching him [Clayton] go through the North Island Eagles rep program made me want to do it, and then once I started playing hockey I kept getting better at it and I was really just hooked from day one.”
In the beginning, he says he spent a lot of his spare time in his backyard and garage just shooting pucks and stickhandling.
“I actually put a lot of holes in the walls that my parents weren’t too happy about,” he laughed, reminiscing on his childhood.
Bono’s father Ray coached him early on during Atom and Peewee, and as far as his experience playing in the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association goes, during his first year of Atom his team won the Tier 4 league banner.
“It was the only banner I won with the Eagles,” Bono confirmed, saying he was still proud of the accomplishment.
Over the next few years he was coached from Peewee to Bantam by local community members Ryan Handley, Jason Roper, Glenn Moore and Jason Saunders, who he said all played an important role in his development as a playmaker.
During his time with the Eagles, Bono also played spring hockey down island in Victoria. This is what led to him getting the opportunity to play in the Tretiak Cup in Russia back in 2017 when he was 13 years old.
He said his favourite moment from the tournament was getting to score a goal in another country, and he noted the main reason he excelled at the sport as fast as he did was because he was “hockey focused all year round. I’d play spring hockey after the rep season ended, and then when spring hockey would end in June-July, I’d pick rep back up at the end of August.”
After finishing his first year of Bantam with the Eagles, he decided to move down island to attend the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy in Victoria, where he played for two seasons and set a team record in his second year for most points.
“There were a lot of really good players who went through that program,” Bono said. “I was pretty proud of that [record].”
He was starting to get noticed by other teams at this point, and the Bulldogs head coach Joe Martin asked him to come out to attend an identification camp.
At the end of the camp, Martin offered to sign him to the team, which Bono said was a “no brainer” decision to play for them. The Alberni Valley is a hotbed for hockey, and it’s much closer to his family in Port McNeill than Victoria is.
During the hockey season Bono is on the ice everyday practicing, playing games on the weekend, and then he also hits the gym to work on strength and conditioning as much as he can during his time outside of the rink.
Bono, who plays centre, stands 6 foot 3 and weighs around 200 lbs, has one more season with the Bulldogs before he’s off to go play NCAA Division 1 hockey for Merrimack College in Boston, Massachusetts.
“I got recruited in my first year with the Bulldogs,” he said. “They [Merrimack] offered me a full scholarship which was something I couldn’t turn down.”
Merrimack College isn’t the only one who has an eye on Bono. NHL teams were actually scouting him and another Bulldogs player for the 2022 draft.
“It was definitely an honour,” he said about being scouted for the draft. “Unfortunately I wasn’t drafted, but just knowing they were watching me was pretty cool.”
Bono grew up watching Port McNeill legends Willie Mitchell and Clayton Stoner play in the NHL. He said they both showed him that it’s possible to make the league, “and Willie winning the Stanley Cup and bringing it back home was a highlight for me, for sure.”
With all of his success over the years playing hockey, Bono wanted North Island youth to know that it all comes from “working hard, loving the game, listening to your coaches, and just having fun on the ice.”