WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – When Beau Bennett goes to the rink each day, it’s no longer after a full day of classes at the University of Denver. Now that he’s turned professional, it’s his full-time job to skate, work out and do what he needs to do in order to be successful.
It’s certainly a different attitude than what he’s been used to, but he’s enjoying it. Especially since he’s making the transition to being a professional hockey player alongside his seven fellow Penguins rookies.
Defensemen Joe Morrow, Brian Dumoulin and Reid McNeill and forwards Bennett, Jayson Megna, Adam Payerl, Dominik Uher and Tom Kuhnhackl arrived in Wilkes-Barre about a month ago to train together and learn how to conduct themselves both on and off the ice in preparation for their first training camp as professional hockey players.
“Most of us rookies got down here and got adjusted before everyone else came down,” Dumoulin said. “It was exciting coming down here and meeting everyone. Now a month in, we’re all really close and tight as a group.”
“I think it’s very important because when you come in as a first-time rookie – this is my first camp – things can be kind of overwhelming,” Megna added. “But at least you’ve been here for a little while, gotten to settle down and you know some people in the locker room, so you’re starting to build a little bit of a comfort level.”
They’ve been living together in a hotel the entire time, doing everything as a group. They’ve been skating and working out 6-7 days a week at WBS’ practice rink, the Ice Rink at Coal Street, and have gotten familiarized with the team staff and facilities.
When the players are done training, they go out for meals together and do activities like golfing and going to movies in their free time. Though many of them didn’t know each other very well (or at all) before this, they’ve gotten quite close these last few weeks – and that hasn’t come as a surprise to any of them.
“Hockey players are really easy guys to get along with,” Megna said. “Once you get in the locker room, they become your family and your brothers. You see them every day. You hang out with them outside the rink, inside the rink, whatever it is. We’ve come together pretty close and it happened pretty quick, too.”
A few of them are even considering rooming together after camp ends, like first-round picks Bennett (20th overall, 2010) and Morrow (23rd overall, 2012).
“We get along pretty well,” Morrow said. “We have a lot of fun together. I’m pretty confident he’ll turn out to be a good roommate.”
The transition has been tougher in different areas for this group of guys. It hasn’t been as much of an adjustment on the ice for Morrow, Uher and Kuhnhackl, who have all experienced an NHL training camp with the Penguins. But off the ice, it’s a totally different story.
That’s because all three players lived with billet families during their junior careers, who essentially provided a home away from the home they grew up in during those years.
“I usually have someone cook for me,” Morrow said. “It will be a huge adjustment doing my own laundry and making my own bed and cooking for myself. We’ll see how it goes. I haven’t experienced any of that yet. When the time comes maybe I can find a nice girlfriend that will help me out (laughs). Until that time I’ll have to do something myself. It will be a big change.”
Meanwhile, Dumoulin, Megna and Bennett have already experienced living on their own by going away to school, so they’re more familiar with how to take care of themselves without parents around.
“That’s one of the good things about college, you weren’t billeting and you weren’t living with parents,” Dumoulin said. “You were on your own. You were with a bunch of guys on your team and that was a good adjustment for me now, living on my own and picking up my own food and kind of developing that already. So when I came here, it was an easier transition.”
There are some challenges to the players’ current setup, namely that their hotel rooms don’t have kitchenettes, which means the players essentially have to eat out for every meal – and that can be a test of wills.
“You’ve just got to have a mental toughness of knowing what’s good and what’s bad over the summers,” Dumoulin said. “In the summer at Pittsburgh’s development camp, they brought us to a grocery store and told us what food is good for us and what food is bad. You should know that by now. So you just have the mental toughness to just eat right and know that it will affect your play when you get out there.”
It’s been a whirlwind this last month, but the players feel that they’re ready to face whatever lies ahead.
“It was long overdue,” Morrow said. “It’s been fun so far. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time to start a new chapter in my life. I’m trying to break the lineup here and hopefully move up down the road.”