Benn: 'Dallas had a huge impact on me'
Jordie Benn will make his way to the visitors' locker room at American Airlines Center for the first time in his career on Tuesdayby Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com
MONTREAL - While Jordie Benn might no longer be a full-time Texan, his love for the Lone Star State remains as strong as ever.
After all, the 30-year-old defenseman did spend eight years patrolling the blue line in Texas - primarily in Dallas - before being dealt to the Canadiens last February.
That was more than enough time for the city to leave a lasting impression on one of its most famous bearded imports.
"I consider it home. That's probably the easiest way to describe it," said Benn, who will play in front of the Dallas Stars' faithful for the first time since the trade on Tuesday night. "It's a really low-key, old-school lifestyle, which I really like. Dallas had a huge impact on me. Being there for so many years, I just took it all in. I love it down there. I met a lot of people inside and outside of hockey, so I still have a lot of connections and a lot of good friends there."
The transition from his hometown of Victoria, BC to one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the United States wasn't entirely seamless at first, though.
"I was just a nervous, young kid at the time. Getting away from home, getting away from the parents for the first time, I had a few tough months there and I got homesick," recalled Benn, who moved to Texas in 2009 to play for the CHL's Allen Americans, then a Stars affiliate, for one season. "It was just a lot different, especially the weather. You hear how hot it is, but you don't realize it until you get down there.
"Obviously, being a fair-skinned ginger, it took a toll on me," he cracked.
But with the encouragement of his parents, the help of a good teammate, and some Southern hospitality, Benn gradually felt at ease and settled in for the start of an extended stay in Big D that spanned the majority of his 20s.
"My old man and my mom, they just supported me a lot. They just said, 'Don't come back, tough it out.' I also had a roommate, Liam Huculak. I lived with him and his girlfriend and it kind of made it easier for me, too. He was a big help," said Benn, on the early stages of his Texas odyssey in the northern Dallas suburb. "Then, the people down there are so nice. They took us in and we got treated like gold in Allen. Any chance they had to help out with anything, they did, whether it was with meals, a place to live, or a car."
It didn't hurt having his younger brother, Jamie, living nearby, either. The current Stars captain moved south that same season to begin his rookie NHL campaign.
Eventually, the pair joined forces as teammates - and housemates - and were basically inseparable until Jordie's departure for Montreal.
"That's what I remember, playing with my brother and getting to live that NHL dream inside and outside of the rink," explained Benn, who played 302 games in a Stars uniform between 2011-12 and 2016-17. "We were tied at the hip there. We'd go to the rink together, leave together. That's really something special to me, that we got to play in the NHL and live our dream together for those years."
When Benn wasn't going about his business on the ice, he made a point of trying to explore everything that the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex had to offer.
"I loved going out to Fort Worth, walking around the Arts District and heading over to Deep Ellum. It's kind of just like old-school pubs and grungy dive bars. It was just a cool atmosphere. Obviously the weather is unbelievable, so you can do that pretty much year-round. They also have Six Flags there, which is a great place to go and mess around for a bit," said Benn, before rattling off the names of a few of his favorite local eateries.
"I'd say the food down there is what I miss most, the size of the helpings, the ribs and the meat they cook, the barbecue. The Loon is a place we used to go all the time. Hillstone has some unbelievable ribs. I was also a regular at a steakhouse called Al Biernat's," added Benn with a laugh.
The veteran blue-liner embraced every aspect of his Texan roots, including a newfound love of the gridiron.
"When I first got to Texas, I wasn't a big football fan. I never even watched the CFL [growing up in British Columbia]. I felt like football was kind of boring with so many whistles. But living there for that long, I'm a huge Cowboys fan now. I love Sunday football and watching games with the fellas and hanging out," mentioned Benn, who also supports the Texas Rangers. "I got to know [pitcher] Derek Holland pretty well. He hooked us up with tickets quite a bit and he and his buddies showed us the baseball scene a little bit."
As time marched on during his tenure with the Stars, Benn essentially lived in Texas year-round, going back to Victoria for just a few weeks in the summer before heading south of the border again.
These days, the Canadiens' rearguard is actively looking to purchase a house of his own in Dallas, where he continues to spend his offseasons training with Jamie and some of his former teammates.
Video: Jordie Benn dishes on his brother Jamie
Needless to say, Benn has been eagerly anticipating this particular road trip since the NHL schedule was released in June.
"Jamie and I were in Dallas when the schedule came out and we were seeing when he was coming here and when I was going there," admitted Benn. "It's a little bit nerve-wracking playing against the guys you used to play with, but I did it last year [in Montreal], so it'll be fun to get back there."