If you’ve been at a St. Cloud State men’s hockey practice since the season started, you would find Joey Benik sitting on one of the benches, usually leaning forward. The lower part of his leg was in a cast (usually without a sock to cover his toes) and he was pretty quiet.
Benik had the un-fortune to break his leg in the first practice. He’s not a loud guy by nature and most of the pain of his injury could be seen on his face. There was an intense glare to him for a lot of the practices he was not able to be on the ice for.
His first day on the ice for a practice after being injured, Benik had a smile that was noticeable through his mask.
“It’s been fun to watch and see how well these guys are doing this year, but I want to be a part of it,” said Benik, who set the single season state record for goals in a season when he played for St. Francis High School. “I’m looking forward to getting back in there.
“I was (at the rink) for all the practices. If I wasn’t watching it, I was in the weight room doing whatever I could with my cast on or doing physical therapy. I taped my leg to a bike sometimes and watched practice. Anything I could do to keep me moving forward.
“To watch the guys out there, having fun and screaming at each other — everything that goes with being a part of a team — is not fun. You feel like you’re not there. You want to be doing everything that everyone else is doing. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s what you got to do.”
While the area public hockey fans have not seen Benik play since high school, the St. Cloud State players have scrimmaged and practiced with him. So what is he going to bring to the team?
“Benik has been really good in practice,” Huskies junior defenseman Kevin Gravel said. “He’s picking right up where left off. There’s going to be an adjustment period. But at the same time, he’s skilled and a really good player. He’s going to be a great addition.
“I think Joey will help us score. Everybody knows what he did in juniros. He’ll chip in a few points and he’s not going to be a defensive liability.”
In 86 games for Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League last season, Benik had 46 goals and 79 assists for 125 points. Every situation is different, as is every team’s system and talent. But for comparison sake, consider that Denver defenseman Joey Laleggia had 11 goals and 27 assists in 43 games last season. Laleggia was a teammate of Benik’s his first season at Penticton. Laleggia had 21 goals and 71 assists in 67 games in his last season at Penticton.
But Laleggia was not coming off a broken leg and there are plenty of other players who have had big seasons in the BCHL and not been big producers in the WCHA. So take it all with a grain of salt.
“He’s pumped and really looking forward to getting back out there,” Huskies senior captain Ben Hanowski said. “Give him some time and don’t expect him to come out guns a-blazing. Maybe he will.
“It’s just good to see him back out there. It’s never fun to see a teammate sit out. It’s going to be fun to get him out there and see the smile on his face. If he gives us more offensive punch, it’s going to be even a bigger plus.”
The Huskies were running a power-play drill in practice on Wednesday. Benik was playing point on the second power play unit. Fans should get a chance to see plenty of Benik once he gets back into game shape and if his health holds up.
For Thursday’s game, he will be a wing on a line with junior center Cory Thorson and freshman wing Jimmy Murray. Neither Murray or Thorson have a point in the last five games, so the coaching staff is hoping that Benik helps give his linemates a boost.
Here are St. Cloud State’s probable lines for Thursday (the lone change could be on the fourth line):
|11-Kalle Kossila||19-Drew LeBlanc||22-Jonny Brodzinski|
|10-Ben Hanowski||26-Nic Dowd||13-David Morley|
|9-Joey Benik||8-Cory Thorson||16-Jimmy Murray|
|27-Nick Oliver||37-Joey Rehkamp||17-Joey Holka|
|28-Andrew Prochno||14-Nick Jensen||29-Ryan Faragher|
|7-Kevin Gravel||12-Ethan Prow||35-Rasmus Reijola|
|40-Tim Daly||4-Taylor Johnson||33-Joe Phillippi|