There may have been some tentative steps at the beginning of last season for Montreal Canadiens’ defensive prospect Mac Bennett, but by the end of his first season in the pros, he felt that he found his stride.
Entering this year’s Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario, Bennett is hoping to put his best foot forward and hit the ground running, using the momentum he gained last year.
“[The transition from college] was definitely tough. You go to playing basically twice as much a season,” Bennett said. “And, on top of that, the travel’s a little bit more crazy. You spend a lot more time on buses.
“The game’s faster. You know, it’s hard, but by the end of the season I kind of found a groove and I just want to play off that this year.”
From top to bottom, the speed of the pro game took some time for Bennett to adjust.
“Speed – and not necessarily just the physical speed, but that everything is faster, including the way you have to think the game,” Bennett explained. “The first month or two I kind of struggled with [the game speed], but my coaches were really great about helping me to develop and letting me grow. It just came eventually.”
Bennett spent four years at the University of Michigan, serving as captain his final two seasons. He spent the 2014-15 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, and he credits the experience of spending a year in the pros with giving him confidence about his opportunities this season.
“It’s getting a sense of confidence and a sense of comfort. Having that confidence goes a long way,” he said. “Just having played a year already, I have that coming into this year.”
The six-foot, 190-pound defender was selected in the third round of the 2009 NHL Draft. In 59 games last year, he scored four goals and added eight assists.
Though his Canadiens prospects lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospects 4-3 in three-on-three overtime (after Bennett got caught pinching, allowing a two-on-none breakaway the other way), Bennett said the opening game did what it needed to do.
“You’re just trying to bang the rust off, you know?” Bennett explained. “It’s one thing to be doing drills in the summertime and skating, but nothing gets you into game shape like playing the game. This is a great opportunity to do that.”
The nature of the rookie tournament is challenging because the team doesn’t have a lot of time to practice together. On the other hand, it does allow players to focus on the basics, he said.
“It’s quick. You haven’t played together and you’re still trying to feel each other out, so there are some adjustments to be made. But it’ll come,” he said. “As a defenseman, when the puck gets dumped in you know how the forecheck is and how to defend against that. Right now just everyone’s going slow, but it’s the first game and we’ll improve.”
With two more rookie camp games on tap and main camp approaching, Bennett is keeping his goals modest.
“I just want to build off last year and I want to be skating every night,” he said. “Just play my game, be well defensively, get some offensive opportunities – that’s all I can ask for.”
And with another year in the AHL ahead of him, this Narragansett, Rhode Island product is looking forward to the Habs’ farm club’s new home in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“Hamilton was great and we had a great fan base there. I’ve heard a lot of great things about St. John’s,” he said. “For me, I grew up on the East Coast, so it’ll be nice to be back on the ocean again.
“I’m actually really looking forward to it. I’ve heard a lot of good things.”
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