AVON, Conn. -- Along the winding roads that lead to Avon Old Farms prep school, signs read "To the Cup," with an arrow directing fans to the campus where former student-athlete Nick Bonino was bringing the Stanley Cup.
As a member of the 2016 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, Bonino, the center of the now-famous "HBK Line" -- which also included Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel -- finally had his day with hockey's sacred chalice on Thursday.
Bonino, 28, admitted he began thinking about his plans for the Cup during the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. As much as he didn't want to jinx it, he mentioned it to his wife, Lauren, while the two sat in the kitchen of their rental home in Pittsburgh. Her sound advice was simple: "Win it first."
The Penguins defeated the Lightning in seven games, then won the championship in a six-game set against the San Jose Sharks. Now Bonino could make official plans for his day with the Cup.
"Everything is playing out like I hoped it would," he said.
Mike Bolt, one of the Hockey Hall of Fame's keepers of the Cup, arrived with the hardware and handed it over to Bonino at 9 a.m. One of the first stops was TPC River Highlands in nearby Cromwell, site of the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship.
"Somehow, I thought I would play nine holes with it in 30 minutes," Bonino said with a laugh. "I took four shots and took pictures and then we took it to my dad's work, and it was nice to share it with him and his co-workers.
"Then we took it to my house that I grew up in, my parents' house in Unionville. Then we took it and ate some pasta out of it with my grandparents. That was the one memory I'll cherish the most; my nana and papa there kissing the Cup and eating pasta out of it was something I'll never forget."
When Bonino arrived at his old school, his former coach, John Gardner, who is still the boys' team coach, greeted his former player with the now-famous "Bonino! Bonino! Bonino! Nick Bonino!" winning-goal call from Game 1 against the Sharks made by CBC's Hockey Night Punjabi, which broadcast NHL games in the Indian language.
"I don't think I'm safe from anyone. Anyone can do it," Bonino said with a smile. "It's my ringtone. It's another thing I'm humbled by and it's pretty cool."
The plan was to have the Stanley Cup display on the beautiful village green, where the school holds its graduation every year, but because of the heat -- temperatures soared into the 90s -- the school decided it would be best to keep fans inside and out of the sun. The line of 5,000 fans snaked its way around the gym, up a flight of stairs, over the balcony, down a long hallway and out the door of the student center.
Other Avon alums have their names etched into the Stanley Cup, including Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, who won it with the New York Rangers in 1994, and current Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who won the Cup in 2012 and '14. But this is the first time an Avon alum has brought the Cup to campus.
"It's really great," Gardner said. "It's great for Nick to do this, and Nick's a great guy."
There was a box at the front of the line where fans could make a donation to the Connecticut Children's Medical Center before having their picture taken with Bonino and the Cup. The box was overflowing by the end of the two hours. It was estimated that $5,000 was raised at the event.
At one point, Gardner had all 120 kids attending his hockey camp this week with Bonino and the Stanley Cup for a picture.
"Nicky's a great example to use to young players, because when Nicky was a young player, he wasn't that good," Gardner said. "He never made any of the select teams. He wasn't a sure-fire commitment. He didn't commit to BU until after his junior year at Avon, and he was a late developer. So I use him as an example as someone who really worked hard, and because he worked hard, that's where he is," Gardner added, motioning toward Bonino standing next to the Cup as fans filed through the line.
Before playing at Avon, Bonino played two years at nearby Farmington High School. At the time, then-University of Maine men's assistant coach Grant Standbrook told Gardner about a kid from Farmington whom he should scout and possibly recruit to play at Avon Old Farms.
"I saw Nick Bonino skate when he was a junior at Farmington High, and he was awful," Gardner said. "He had great hands. He had great vision. He was a great player, but he skated very stiff-legged, slow, and everybody knew what he had to work on.
"The reason Nick is what he is, is he can be coached. He's a smart kid and he knew he had to work on his squats and he had to get strong legs and he had to skate. Now people say, 'Oh, Nick's a really good skater.'"
Bonino was a member of the school's varsity program in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and was the captain his second season. He helped Avon win the New England Prep championship in 2007, before his collegiate career at Boston University, where he won a national championship in 2009.
As Bonino's time with the Cup at Avon was ending on Thursday, a few hundred people remained in line, so he picked up the Cup so those fans could get a closer look before he exited the building.
After leaving Avon, Bonino was taking it to Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
"Having a child, and doing visits to children's hospitals with the Penguins, and with the Canucks and with the Ducks, it's eye-opening and definitely changes the way you look at life," Bonino said. "Those kids in there haven't had the best fortune, but you wouldn't know it by their demeanors, by the way they act. ... I knew this platform was a way to maybe raise some money."
Bonino also teamed with Uber, which drove him around in the morning and donated $4,000 to the children's hospital.
After the public appearances, Bonino held a private party for family and close friends.
"Maybe I'll have a couple of drinks out of it," he said with a smile.
Nothing could match the birth of his daughter, Maisie, earlier this year, but Bonino said that spending his day with the Stanley Cup and sharing it with his family, friends and fans was a close second.
"He wanted to bring it here and he wanted as many people as possible to see the Cup," Gardner said.
Once again, Bonino was successful.
And he had the Stanley Cup until midnight before it was tucked away for the night.