Many who watched the Stars vs. Canucks game last sunday were impressed by the play of 20-year-old Victoria rookie Jamie Benn.
“Benn, who grew up playing hockey and baseball on the Saanich Peninsula,” wrote Cleve Dheensaw, “was just a fifth-round draft selection taken 129th overall in 2007 out of the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League. Now only 20 years old and not far removed from the Junior ‘B’ Peninsula Panthers, his ascension has been as meteoric as it has been surprising.
In a Canadian junior hockey system simply not designed for the burgeoning number of undrafted or lower-rounds late bloomers now signing pro contracts, Benn went from five-foot-seven in Junior ‘B’ with the Panthers to his current six-foot-two.
“My dad told me to keep working hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” Benn said recently.
“I wasn’t the tallest guy back in the day. But I kept going with it and it paid off.”
When Dallas Stars rookie Jamie Benn of Victoria scored his dramatic first NHL goal Sunday night at GM Place, with one minute and 33 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the Vancouver Canucks 3-3, mother Heather Benn admitted the family contingent in the stands “forgot where we were.”
After jumping, clapping and hollering, the Benn supporters sat down to find the rest of the building silent and those around them staring.
“But we could hear and see patches of Jamie’s supporters — old high school buddies [from Stelly’s Secondary] — in other sections of the arena,” beamed Heather Benn.
About the only time Island hockey fans turn against the Canucks is when one of their own comes into GM Place. That’s when the enemy becomes the home side.
“We were talking before the game about how incredible it would be if Jamie could score his first NHL goal in his home province in front of his family and friends,” said Heather Benn.
“He was coming close and you could see it building. And when it happened, it was simply unbelievable.”
Some of Benn’s nearly 100 family and friends from the Island pressed up to the glass during warm-ups holding signs welcoming the Stars’ prize rookie discovery to his home province.
The six-foot-two left-winger, who has a goal and two assists in his first four NHL games, couldn’t help but notice.
“During the warm-up, they were banging on the end glass,” Benn told reporters, after the game won 4-3 by the Canucks in a shoot-out.
“I tried not to look up so I wouldn’t start laughing but it’s great that I have the support like that. It means a lot. I had a lot of friends and family here so it was a good time to get the goal, too. It meant a lot to me. It took me four games to get it but hopefully I’ll start rolling from here.”
Many of those buddies were the ones Benn played street hockey with in no-holds-barred games that would last deep into the evenings on a Central Saanich neighbour’s tennis court.
It may be in the genes. Dad Randy Benn of Victoria was an outstanding softball player who represented Canada, winning gold medals at the 1976 world championships in New Zealand and 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico. Jamie’s older brother and blueliner Jordie Benn is also a pro hockey player in the Stars system with the Allen, Texas, Americans of the Central League after skating his rookie campaign last season with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL under AHL contract with the Manitoba Moose.
“Jamie has always had natural ability in any sport he tried,” said Heather Benn. “But he’s never had any big jumps. It’s always been step by step.”
Only after proving himself with the Junior ‘A’ Grizzlies did get Benn get an offer from the Kelowna Rockets of the major-junior WHL, which led to 2009 world junior gold with Canada and now the NHL.
“Those progressive steps were why we thought a year in the AHL would be good for Jamie and better in the long term,” noted mom Heather.
“But, of course, Jamie wanted to make it right from the start.”
So far, that’s exactly what he’s doing.