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Growing stronger

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – After coming up a little bit short in the fitness department during his last trip to La Belle Province back in early July, Mac Bennett returned to his alma mater with a plan.

“I had my exit meeting at Development Camp [in Montreal] earlier this summer. They asked me how I thought things went. I said – “Well, I’m strong, but I’m out of shape.” They said – “You’re right. That’s exactly what we were thinking, too.” I told them that I was going to go back to Ann Arbor and get back into shape in terms of my cardio,” offered Bennett, a University of Michigan grad, who is making his first appearance at the Canadiens’ Rookie Camp after signing a two-year entry-level contract back on March 26.

“I knew I had to pick my cardio up, so we put a little bit more into the program. I was running more. I was skating more,” added the 23-year-old rearguard, a former two-year captain at Michigan, who finished his four-year collegiate career in March with 14 goals and 65 points in 136 career games. “Right now, I think I’m in the best shape of my life.”

With any fitness concerns now squarely in the rear view mirror, Bennett is focused on absorbing as much information as possible over the course of the next three days, while displaying the qualities that earned him one accolade after another during his time with the Wolverines.

“I’m just trying to soak everything up and take things one day at a time. It’s my first year as a pro, and everything is just kind of a learning experience. If I can take it one day at a time, I’ll be good,” mentioned Bennett, who is excited at the prospect of suiting up for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs in 2014-15. “I want to showcase my skating. That’s my best ability. I think that’s the reason why I’m here. I just have to make sure that every time I’m out on the ice, I’m moving my feet.”

Despite the inevitable pressures that players might place on themselves during their inaugural pro camp experience, Bennett’s calm and cool demeanor shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Narragansett, RI native has received plenty of good advice from former teammates and coaches at Michigan, all of which he’s trying to put into practice at the Bell Sports Complex.

“I’m really close with [former Michigan defenseman and current Habs prospect] Greg Pateryn. He’s just told me to play my game. He knows that I can skate and make that good first pass. He told me not to do anything that I’m not normally used to doing. He told me to just go out and play my game, and everything will fall into place,” offered Bennett, who was drafted 79th overall by the Canadiens in 2009. “I saw [Michigan head coach] Red Berenson a few times a week in Ann Arbor, and he told me to do the same thing I did during my time at Michigan, and to play like I’m still wearing the ‘C’. He said – “If you do all the right things, you’ll do o.k.”

While Bennett has made significant progress over the years, he knows full well that there’s still room for improvement, particularly when it comes to upping his physical game.

“[Canadiens director of player development] Martin Lapointe wants me to be a little bit grittier. I think especially as this last season went on, I did that more and more,” stressed Bennett, who registered a plus-12 differential and was named to the All-Big Ten second team in 2013-14. “When I got drafted, I was maybe 180 pounds soaking wet. I’m almost 200 pounds right now, so I’ve got to be able to throw that around a little bit.”

Bennett will undoubtedly get his chance to do just that in the AHL come early October.

“We’re going to have a pretty solid defense corps in Hamilton. From what I’ve seen, everyone can play, everyone can skate,” concluded Bennett. “It’s going to force me to raise my level of play.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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