It’s definitely different here in the NHL. You’ve got to play a different way. You’re not going to get away with any of the stuff you can get away with in junior. - Sam Bennett
CALGARY, AB -- His best game, suggested Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley.
High praise. And not just lip service.
“Benny last night,” Hartley started after broaching the subject of rookie Sam Bennett, “I feel he played the best game that we’ve seen so far. He was on a mission and he was good.”
The stat line won’t show anything too spectacular.
Zero goals. No assists.
But four shots, second only to two-goal man Johnny Gaudreau, and a team-high five hits shed a little more light into Bennett’s involvement in Sunday’s 5-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers.
“I really think it was one of my stronger games this season,” said Bennett, who has five goals and 14 points in 34 games. “That’s the way I want to play every game. Definitely I think I can hopefully get on a roll here and if I can keep playing that way then the bounces are eventually going to go my way.”
The bounces haven’t of late, though.
Bennett is scoreless in 13 straight games heading into action against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. He’s got one assist in the same span.
His ice time has ranged from a high of 18:52, his highest total of the year, to 10:12, his lowest.
“We challenge everyone on this team to bring us another gear, bring us another notch to their game in order to make our team game better and he has no problem with that,” Hartley said. “He wants it.”
He also wants to play the right way.
The former Kingston Frontenacs standout, who recorded 65 goals and 155 points in 128 career Ontario Hockey League games, is first working on earning trust in his own end before focusing on exploits outside of it.
It’s been a point of discussion between Hartley, the teacher, and Bennett, the pupil.
“It’s a lot about just playing the right way and not cheating to get goals or points,” Bennett said. “Really, he just wants me to play the right way, play smart defensive hockey. That’s I guess what he’s really focusing on.
“It’s definitely different here in the NHL. You’ve got to play a different way. You’re not going to get away with any of the stuff you can get away with in junior. That’s definitely one of the things he’s drilling into me.”
Bennett is absorbing it. He’s not afraid to put in the work.
It’s part of the reason the Flames made Bennett the fourth player taken off the board in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Reports were, as Hartley details, that the now-19-year-old Holland Landing, ON native has the competitive spirit driving him to compete.
“That’s why he was the player we wanted right at the start of the draft,” Hartley said. “We kind of figured out who would get drafted and everything but the pick by the scouts days before the draft was Sam Bennett. They were raving about how competitive he was and they were telling me that if we get this guy you’ll see that you will get a guy that competes and goes hard.
“He’s a kid so obviously he’s going to have ups and downs, he’s going to make mistakes but that’s the commitment we made as an organization we’ve made for the past two years to get those kids, work with them, play them, live with their mistakes. They have so much to offer that once you tabulate their mistakes and their good moves they are way ahead.”
The mistakes have been there.
So too has the growth.
Hartley knows, and Bennett is learning, that both come hand in hand.
“It definitely makes me play the right way, because I have to,” Bennett said. “Games are so important. I think that will make me a better player faster.”