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GENE'S BLOG: Welcome Matt

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the welcomed return of defenceman Matt Benning

by Gene Principe /

Since January 11, the Matt - or Matthew - the Edmonton Oilers have been talking about owns the last name Tkachuk.

After everything that happened the evening of the 11th in the Battle of Alberta, I get why he was a topic of conversation. However, as Edmonton moves on in their schedule and the two teams don't meet again until April 4, let's try talking about a different Matt. A Matt who deserves to be talked about for his courageous comeback from two concussions, or at least one long one that lingered and lasted for almosr two months. 

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It started with a stick to the noggin. A swing of the stick by Evander Kane caught the blueliner in the head. Immediately, he was done for the night. Concussion protocol kicking in and saving him from any further damage.

The defenceman answered all the questions, passed all the tests and proved beyond a reasonable doubt he was good to go during those days of downtime. He sat out five games and returned to the lineup on December 1 in Vancouver.

It was just temporary. This time he took a shot (or actually, a puck) to the head and his evening was over.

From there it was more testing and more serious. Two concussions in less than two weeks. Those are not the kind of numbers a player or person wants to put up in their professional life. 

I would have to say I've got a soft spot for Matt. If you're from Edmonton, and especially the north side, it's hard not to have heard of the Benning family. Grandfather Elmer was a hockey man and multi-decade scout with Montreal before he passed. 

Uncle Jim was a former first-rounder and current Vancouver Canucks General Manager. 

Then I went to high school with Matt's dad, Brian. 

Over the years, while he weaved his way through a 568-game career, we would periodically meet up on the road as I was trying to work my way up the broadcasting ladder. Brian's always got a joke to tell and a slap on the back to provide. As a result, I've known or heard about Matt for a long time. Then he arrived in Edmonton and was about the nicest, friendliest young man you could meet. 

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While he was out I would often ask if Matt was around or how Matt was doing. The answer would often be he was here or was in the back area but he was out of sight working on getting better. As the slow process continued, you would start to get glimpses of him and then out on his own he went. Skating before or after but not with his teammates. He wasn't ready yet but progressing positively until he could re-join them. 

As he got better and good enough to play, it was right when the Oilers started their mandated bye week and all-star break. Matt looked ready to go but with no games to play, he took a trip to California. Not there to sightsee or slap on sunblock but to get in some action with the American Hockey League's Bakersfield Condors. 

Another step on the road to recovery. It all led to a return to the lineup on January 29 versus Calgary. With a potential of two points slipping away, Benning scored a highlight-reel goal to ensure the Oilers received at least a point.

The Pacific Division is hard to predict but you can't say the same about Benning. You know what you're getting. If you're a coach, you can't ask for much more than being able to bank on certain expectations and qualities a player provides. Other than a new helmet, it's the same old player who is back patrolling the blueline, sliding into the top six and leading Edmonton with a plus-12 rating.

Taking away your livelihood is concerning but taking away your normal way of everyday life is more disturbing. It appears the kid from St. Albert, who grew up an Oilers fan and had a father who played for them, is feeling better about his game and his health. 

With his return to the Oilers, we're happy to put out the Welcome Matt.

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