It didn't take Hotchkiss ice hockey coach Damon White very long to form an opinion of Rhode Island native Mac Bennett
while on a recruiting trip to Massachusetts four years ago.
"I first saw Mac as an eighth grader competing in a bantam tournament at the Berkshire School and you could tell right away that he was the smartest player on the ice," White told NHL.com. "He had terrific vision, could pass the puck very well and made very good decisions. He's a tough kid in the sense that he never shies away. He's not afraid to go into the corner with anybody; he's comfortable in dark places."
White attended the Berkshire tournament to scout other players. But as it turned out, "Mac Bennett
was the best player on the ice."
Head coach of The Hotchkiss School since 1997, White has helped guide the team to several Division 1 New England championships and has seen his fair share of big names come and go through the halls of the Connecticut prep school.
He has no doubt that Bennett, all 5-foot-11, 170 pounds of him, will be able to hold his own with any of the stars that have called The Hotchkiss School home. In fact, White says the junior defenseman has all the makings of a future professional.
"Mac will play in the NHL one day," White said. "I don't think there's anything stopping him, to be honest. I say that with the feeling he'll grow to be a 6-2 or 6-3, 205-pound kid who can really skate."
While Bennett's current size might be a concern when evaluating him as a blue-line prospect, Bennett has undeniable hockey bloodlines. He is the son of former Cranston East (R.I.) All-Stater and Brown University All-Ivy League selection Jim Bennett. Despite his 5-10, 180-pound frame, Jim Bennett was drafted by the Atlanta Flames in the eighth round (No. 133) of the 1977 draft.
Jim Bennett is the son of former NHL goaltender Harvey Bennett and the younger brother of former NHL players Curt Bennett
(6-3, 195) and Harvey Bennett Jr
. (6-4, 215).
"Hopefully, I get that (height) gene from my uncles, but with the way the game has changed and the need for quick defensemen today, it wouldn't be too bad to end up like my dad," Mac Bennett
said. "When I was a lot younger, my dad would tell me to take the puck and skate and I've been able to do that as a defenseman. He stressed that puck-moving defensemen come at a premium and you can actually see that more and more with the way the game is now played. Dad stresses to me to play my game and not worry about who is in the stands or who is watching. If you play well, eventually everything will come."
Bennett did not follow his dad when it came to college choices, however. He has forsaken the Ivy League for the University of Michigan, joining the Wolverines in the fall of 2010. Bennett was also heavily recruited by Boston College, the reigning national champion.
"They're both great schools, but what it came down to was a feeling I got when I walked onto the Michigan campus," Bennett said. "My defensive coach here at Hotchkiss said when you're going through this process, you're going to know; you'll just feel it. Boston College is a great school, has a great team and even won a national title last year, but there was something about Michigan. It was a great feeling and there's just something about that arena when it's packed."
White believes Michigan coach Red Berenson
will get a complete player when Bennett shows up in Ann Arbor. He compares Bennett to another product from his program, San Jose's Torrey Mitchell
"He's got tremendous passion for the game and works his tail off in the weight room," White said. "I believe he'll take a similar path to that of Torrey Mitchell
. He'll be on the edge of the radar screen, go to college, do well and only get better and better."
Mitchell attended The Hotchkiss School from 2002-04 before being drafted by San Jose in the fourth round (No. 126) of the 2004 Entry Draft. Mitchell continued his career at the University of Vermont, where he served as co-captain of the Catamounts as a junior.
Following his third season at Vermont, Mitchell left school to play with the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League before earning a roster spot with the Sharks out of training camp in 2007.
"I believe he'll take a similar path to that of Torrey Mitchell. He'll be on the edge of the radar screen, go to college, do well and only get better and better."
-- Damon White, high school coach of Mac Bennett
It's quite possible Mac could become another NHL success story within the Bennett clan as a potential pick in the 2009 Entry Draft at the Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27. In NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, Bennet is No. 63 among North American skaters, suggesting he will be a mid-round pick.
Bennett's status may have been adversely affected by an early-season knee injury that limited his playing time in the first half of the season.
"There's no real pressure because I try not to focus really on that and just play the game," Bennett said. "I figure if I play well, then all those things will follow, so I feel very lucky. I've been working hard and, according to the scouts, it's paying off so I just need to continue what I've been doing."
One of Bennett's finest qualities is his ability to think ahead in the heat of battle.
"I'm just looking for the open man and the open space," Bennett said. "One of the better aspects of my game is that I'm able to get the puck out of the zone as quickly and efficiently as possible and I'm able to do that just by keeping my head up and looking for the open guy or using my feet and skating out of the zone."
Bennett's confidence with the puck on his stick doesn't go unnoticed by his teammates. Goalie Cab Morris, in fact, says, Bennett serves as a stabilizing force with his willingness to move the puck in transition.
"He's our breakout man; he has great feet and can carry the puck up quick," Morris said. "He helps our team move it out of the zone real quick. He's got great speed, knows how to pass and has a great vision for the ice. We're a confident group with Mac on the ice."
Contact Mike Morreale email@example.com