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FEAR THE BEARD

Sam Bennett feels playoff hockey brings out the best in him

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

If looking the part is half the battle, Sam Bennett is off to a pretty good start.

The beard, now fully mature after weeks of conditioning and a meticulous grooming regimen (we assume), is the perfect playoff accessory.

Already.

But, it turns out, the feisty Flames winger plays by the rules and isn't out to tempt fate with an early jump on the action.

Tradition and all that.

"Gotta wait 'til Thursday," Bennett laughs. "Night 1. The big reveal.

"I know the fans like the 'stache and that's been a good look for me, too, but we'll see."

One thing's for sure:

When the puck drops Thursday for Game 1, the Flames' own Yosemite Sam - who's finally been given a clean bill of health following a maddening set of late-season injuries - is officially 'playoff-ready.'

Has been for some time, too.

"This is it," Bennett said, matter-of-factly, following Tuesday's practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome - the penultimate tune-up for what should be a dandy of an opening-round series between the Flames and Colorado Avalanche.

"It's kind of how my game is built. For this.

"The physicality, the emotion in the rink, the city, and in the dressing room …

"I love it all."

 

Video: NJD@CGY: Bennett buries excellent feed from Giordano

 

There is, after all, a measure of strength that Bennett derives when the stakes ramp up, on a stage like this. He smiles at the very notion of players making a name for themselves in the post-season. At 22, he's becoming one of Calgary's most recent examples.

In his and the Flames' most recent appearance back in 2017 - a spirited, but ultimately short, first-round series with the Anaheim Ducks - Bennett scored a pair of goals and had a team-leading 13 hits, proving for the second time in three years that playoff hockey brings out the very best in him.

In his first tour back in 2015, he scored three goals and added one assist in 11 games after his year with the Kingston Frontenacs came to a close, paving the way for a one-of-a-kind NHL debut.

And what an entrance it was.

"It's all will," said assistant coach Marty Gelinas, who knew "by the first shift" that Bennett was a driver in this tough, playoff climate. "If you have the skill to put up big numbers in the regular season - great. That's wonderful. It obviously makes a big difference. But there's a lot more to it, and a reason the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win.

"You've got to win 16 games. If you're lucky enough to do it, by the time it's all over, you've probably played about 25 total. Can you handle it? Will your body hold up? Are you willing to give that little extra when you've got nothing in the tank?

"He will.

"I always think back to what Mark Messier told us during our Cup run (in 1990), about how the playoffs are all about the one-on-one battles:

"'Win the next one. Then the next one. Then the next one.

"'Win most of them...

"'And you'll come out on the right side of the battle, every time.'

"So that became our focus. Finish the hit. Get in their face. Wear them down. In the regular season, you might not see those guys again all year. In the playoffs, you've got 'em again in two days.

"They feel it. And when you know there's one guy on the other side making your life miserable, that can make all the difference.

"That's the kind of impact Benny can have."

 

Video: CGY@PIT: Bennett reaches back to drag puck over line

 

Bennett, who ended the regular season with 13 goals and 27 points in 71 games, views himself through that same lens.

Hungry.

Eager to crash, bang and help sway the outcome the only way he knows how.

Best of all, he feels better served by the experience he gained over the past two trips, making this latest invite to the spring dance a more focused one.

"Just having played in a couple playoffs now, you're prepared for the speed of the game, the excitement of the crowd and energy in the rink," Bennett said. "As players, we obviously feed off that, but until you've experienced it first-hand, it can be a little overwhelming.

"You learn pretty early that you have to harness that emotion as best as you can and use it the right way.

"For me, that's the fun of it. To play with an edge and put it all out there."

"That's who I am.

"And that's who I'll be Thursday."

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