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Beyond the beard

Jordie Benn has grown into his own in Montreal, following an early career spent alongside his brother out west

by Steven Nechay @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL -- What's big, furry, and wears skates?

Until late last February, only team mascot Youppi! would have fit that bill, but these days another hairy Hab has made a name for himself in Montreal.

The impressive pelts, however, are where the similarities end between newcomer Jordie Benn and the well-traveled Canadiens fuzzball.

For starters, the 29-year-old defenseman hardly looked huggable when he delivered a crushing hit on Tanner Glass in Game 1 of this spring's Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm1: Benn delivers a big check on Glass

Still, it's tough to talk about Benn without mentioning his magnificent orange auburn chin mane.

After all, it's grown -- quite literally -- along with the Victoria, BC native on his journey from a former undrafted free agent living just outside the spotlight of superstar brother Jamie Benn, to today's dependable blue-liner, who can chew up penalty minutes while making smart decisions with and without the puck.

"Obviously, he made it to the NHL first, so I've always been Jamie's brother. I had to grow a beard to get away from him," cracked the sixth-year NHLer, who has been rocking his trademark facial accessory for the better part of four seasons. "Now I'm the bearded Benn."

Fair enough, but he's also the Benn that head coach Claude Julien came to count on down the stretch.

Because if ever a game was on the line in its dying moments or when down a man, chances are Jordie -- who earns his paycheck making defensive zone starts -- was on the ice.

Moreover, he also chipped in offensively with a pair of goals in March, before averaging 20-plus minutes of ice time during the playoffs on the club's second pairing -- filling in for an injured Alexei Emelin alongside Jeff Petry.

Indeed, today the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is more than just another hairy face.

"I got to be my own person here. Being Jamie's brother was a bit of a shadow [in Dallas], so it was nice to come here and do my own thing," described the elder Benn, who spent five seasons playing with his baby bro, before being dealt to Montreal on February 28 in exchange for Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round pick in 2017. "I was wherever they needed me to be [in Montreal]. A couple of guys got hurt, so I had to step up and take on a bit of a bigger role. It was a good experience for me; it was fun to come here and play some hockey."

If Web metrics are anything to go by, then he was also fun to watch, as the likeable rearguard starred in some of the year's most-viewed HabsTV videos, despite being in the city for just under two months.

Video: The CHat feat. Steve Ott and Jordie Benn

"Obviously, the fans in Dallas are great, but when you come to a place like Montreal, the fans get pretty crazy," dished Benn, who nearly doubled his career playoff experience (13 GP) with six games against the Rangers. "I couldn't even hear myself think on the ice, it was so loud. It was a good experience -- it was awesome."

And if the ride ended too soon, then the follically-endowed D-man is eager to pick up where he left off next fall.

Normally that wouldn't be an issue for a player with two years remaining on his contract, but this summer's expansion draft presents a unique challenge for general manager Marc Bergevin, whose trade deadline acquisition likely spent the spring showcasing himself to scouts in Sin City.

If the Habs GM protects seven forwards at the June 17 deadline, that would leave room for him to hoard just three defensemen.

A tricky situation, to be sure, but Benn for his part has made his preference clear.

"The city and the buzz around here, like I said, it's hockey heaven. It was great coming here, and I couldn't have come to a better city," concluded the first-year Hab, who for the moment, is inked through 2018-19. "I want to stay here. I love this city, and I love the guys that are here."

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