“I guess (my mom) didn’t want to take care of me so she chucked me out on the ice, too,” Jamie said with a laugh. “So that’s how it got started. I’ve been playing ever since.”
Maybe it was symbolic. The 20-year-old Benn was thrown in with the “big kids” again this fall when he came to the Stars’ training camp in September. Benn didn’t waste the opportunity; he played hard, impressed all and made the team. And thus far, Benn has shown he more than belongs here.
Yes, the Calder Trophy whispers have already started for Benn, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound right wing who is contrite and thankful for the opportunity he’s earned.
“It’s been pretty exciting,” said Benn. “I just came in and worked hard every day and it paid off.
That may be an understatement. If there’s been any anxiety or fear, Benn hasn’t shown it. It would be understandable if he did; for a rookie, this is, indeed, pretty heady stuff.
“He’s a smart player, clever, positions himself well,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “He has some subtle characteristics. When he handles the puck he protects it and he can play with good players. A lot of times as a young player, you get so intimidated playing with good players that you can tend to do too much. He hasn’t done that.”
Benn has been stalwart under the pressure, playing his game and giving the Stars a strong offensive presence.
“He’s a guy who understands the game,” Ribeiro said. “It’s mostly the details of the game he has to learn more, but that’ll come with age. He’s been great for our team and he has been playing well on both sides of the ice. He’s got good speed, a good shot.”
Morrow noted his young linemate’s “hockey sense.”
“It’s already really good; he asks questions and he wants to get better,” Morrow said. “He reads plays well enough where if you do something once, he gets it. If he’s not in a certain spot the first time he will be the next time. He catches on pretty quick.”
Benn had a scoring touch during his two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets, where he had 33 goals in 2007-08 and 46 in 2008-09. Morrow said his skills were evident from Day 1 at camp.
“The first thing you see is the release he has shooting the puck,” Morrow said. “As training camp and preseason (games) went on you saw his puck play, how strong he is with it. He wins a lot of battles and every element in his game just keeps getting better and better.”
And since preseason games are tantamount to a young player’s prove-your-good-enough process, Benn got plenty of playing opportunities.
He impressed in every one of them.
“He wasn’t one of the best players in preseason, he was the best player during preseason,” Crawford said. “We weren’t sure if he’d be ready right away, but he came in almost Day 1 of training camp and looked so good. When you’re generating scoring chances and doing all sorts of things, people take notice. We took notice.”
That production continued once the regular-season slate began. It’s probably no surprise that the Stars’ first trip, to Western Canada, was his first big showcase; Benn tallied his first assists in Edmonton on Oct. 6 and Calgary on Oct. 9.
But for the Victoria, British Columbia, native, the best was yet to come. On Oct. 11 in Vancouver, north across the bay from his hometown, Benn scored his first NHL goal. Not only did that goal help the Stars force overtime and get a much-needed point, but it also came in front of more than 100 family and friends. And having them in the building was just one more boost to Benn’s performance that night.
“Some of them were banging the glass the whole time,” Benn said of his folks attending that game. “It was really special for me, and playing in front of friends and family was cool. It seemed like all the hard work paid off, and I had a lot of fun that night.”
Family is never really far away, either. His older brother Jordie, the one who was already on the ice when 3-year-old Jamie joined him all those years ago, is a defenseman for the nearby Allen Americans. While it’s tough juggling dueling hockey schedules – texting helps them keep tabs on each other - the brothers try to get together when they can. Jordie said he’s been to a few Stars games this season, and he and Jamie have always had a strong relationship.
“We’ve always been really close,” Jordie said. “I always loved having him around.”
Two years older than Jamie, Jordie said they were both into baseball and hockey before hockey became their primary focus. The brothers were teammates for several years of organized hockey, but were always practicing their favorite trade together in the family garage.
As for Jamie’s quick grasp of everything this season, Jordie isn’t surprised.
“He’ll get thrown into an opportunity and he’ll definitely take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s definitely been like that with any team I’ve seen him play for. He always found a way to play a little better than expected. He’s always been like that.”
The fun just keeps continuing for Benn. So do the lessons. If there’s anything Benn still has to work on, Crawford, said, it’s defense. The coach said it’s mainly a byproduct of not having an extensive minor-league background.
“He missed that step so we’re trying to supplement that for him with extra practice, video review, so he gets that knowledge,” Crawford said. “It’s teachable, but he’s going to make mistakes. That’s one of the balances that we’ve got. As long as he’s continuing to create for us, we’re trying to give him whatever we can to have that knowledge.”
The on-the-job training helps, too. Still, the learning process continues, and Benn has plenty of players from whom to learn. Benn has also talked plenty to assistant coach Stu Barnes, who was one of the best checking-line players in his later playing years with the Stars.
“He’s certainly playing beyond his years. He looks more experienced and older than that,” Barnes said. “He’s willing to listen to the guys and coaches on how to get better. He genuinely wants to get better, and that’s great. He does seem like a pretty laid-back person, but he mixes that with wanting to be a good hockey player. He works hard every day in practice and in games. That’s a positive thing.”
There have been plenty of positives for Benn already. His devotion to the game and determination to keep learning has already earned him high marks, as has his play. Benn has probably had his wide-eyed moments in these early stages, but he hasn’t shown it on the big stage.
Among the “big kids,” Benn is once again just fine.
“You just learn every day,” Benn said. “I’m just really happy to be here, and I just go out and have fun.”