Many players that miss an extended amount of time due to injury may lose touch with their teammates inside the locker room. It can be hard for a player to step into a leadership role when he has spent nearly as much time on the ice as he has off.
Yet despite missing a combined 34 games during his first two years of collegiate hockey, Clarkson University junior Ben Sexton refused to change who he was on and of the ice and was a unanimous selection to return as captain for this year’s Golden Knights (0-3).
“I was obviously excited to take on a leadership role with the team,” Sexton said following Clarkson’s 5-4 loss to Colorado College. “Any time you can see the guys elect you its an honor for sure. Injuries are a part of the game, but it doesn’t effect who I am around the locker room and how I treat other guys.”
Sexton, a 2009 seventh round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, arrived at Clarkson in 2010 after recording 13 goals and 29 assists for the Penticton Vees in the BCHL. The six-foot, 203-pound forward seemed poised for a strong freshman year after scoring three goals and two assists in Clarkson’s first eight games before a freak injury occurred on Nov. 5.
After scoring 18 seconds into a game against Colgate, Sexton crashed into the boards and broke his arm. The Kanata, Ontario native played in the team’s final six games and ended the year with five goals and three assists.
Regardless of Sexton’s limited role in his freshman year, his teammates unanimously anointed him as captain said coach Casey Jones.
“It was unanimous by his peers and it says a lot about his commitment off the ice during his injuries,” Jones said.
Even despite missing 12 games last year with a head injury, Sexton, whose father Randy is the Pittsburgh Penguins assistant director of amateur scouting, still continued to develop as both a player and a leader. He finished with eight goals and 21 assists, none bigger than his goal against Rensselaer in triple overtime to provide Clarkson a 4-3 victory in the ECAC playoffs. It ended the sixth longest game in NCAA history.
Assistant coach Andy Jones believes that Sexton’s time away from the ice during his first two seasons has helped him pick up on things he may not have noticed if he were playing.
“One thing that can happen is when you’re forced to watch from the stands you have to take a step back and look at the game as a coach,” said the assistant. “I think for Benny the game might have slowed down a bit and he noticed some things he could do to improve.“
“He is implementing those things and he has every intention of staying healthy this year, and we think that’s going to happen,” added the assistant coach.
Sexton says he hasn’t established any specific leadership style. He just tries to hold his teammates to the same standards he expects of himself.
“I am a little vocal, but at the end of the day I don’t ask guys to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself,” said the captain. “Guys know that and guys respect that.”
This year, Clarkson, predicted to finish seventh in the ECAC Hockey Association Media Preseason Poll, will depend on Sexton to provide more than just leadership. They will be looking for an offensive spark on a team that has only three senior skaters.
“He is clearly our guy,” Casey Jones said. “We will go as far as he goes this season.”
The Golden Knights are doing all they can to get their NHL draft pick on the ice. In Clarkson’s opening weekend series against Colorado College, Sexton played crucial minutes managing the power play unit and clearing pucks on the penalty kill.
He even nearly rallied the Golden Knights past the Tigers in the season opener by stealing a pass and scorching a puck into the net to cut Colorado College’s lead to 5-4 late in the third period.
What stands out about the two-way forward is his ability to see the ice and his awareness of where his teammate and opponents are. On a five-minute penalty kill Sexton did a nice job keeping his head on a swivel and diving to clear a puck.
Sexton understands Clarkson will need his help in all facets of the game, which does not intimidate him.
“Anytime there’s pressure on me I thrive with it,” he said. “I am excited about the opportunity we have here and how to move forward with it.”
Andy Jones believes Sexton’s energy and hustle on the ice is setting the standard for the Golden Knights and it’s a role that his junior can certainly handle.
“The thing about Ben is you always know your going to get max effort from him, and when a player in a leadership role does that it spreads to the team,” Jones said. “It’s a role he embraces. He knows he is the leader of the team and he will go about his business the same way whether there’s a ‘C’ on his jersey or not.”
Sexton’s future may include the NHL, but for now his present is focused on bringing home an ECAC title to Clarkson for the first time since winning the 2008 regular season title.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be drafted. Some people told me I would and some people told me I wouldn’t,” Sexton said. “Obviously it’s an honor to be drafted by an original six team but that doesn’t change anything that I do here.”
“My four years here is kind of a stepping stone towards my main goal, but we have some things to work out here before then.”
Follow Justin Felisko at Twitter via @jfelisko