Beau knows Stanley
One day with the Stanley Cup could tell you all you need to know about Beau Bennett’s priorities.
Bennett became the first California-born and –trained player to be part of a Stanley Cup champion when the Pittsburgh Penguins vanquished the Sharks in Game 6 in San Jose on June 13.
He and Stanley started their day together on July 1 at a gym, continued to the Toyota Sports Center for pictures before heading to the beach for the afternoon. At a party that night at the family’s Gardena home, the first person Bennett introduced Stanley to was his 95-year-old grandmother, Ann Bennett.
He put an exclamation point on his statement day came when posing for pictures with anyone who wanted one – all while wearing not a Penguins jersey, but one of the Tidal Waves, his first competitive roller hockey team from the late 1990s.
To summarize those priorities: Family, friends, hard work and fun.
“Beau is a rare breed – he’s one of those guys who doesn’t make it about him, even on one of the biggest days of his life,” said Brett Beebe, a lifelong friend and former Tidal Wave player himself. “He goes out of his way to make sure everyone his having a good time.
“He has such loyalty to everyone who went through things with him.”
The second oldest of the four hockey playing children of Kirk and Louanna Bennett, Beau enjoyed a day in the sun with Stanley after an injury-challenged season. It was fitting he held the Cup aloft in the state where he and his peers have fiercely promoted the sport.
“It was awesome (to raise it),” Bennett said. “I put in a lot of work over the past four years. I would have liked to be part of it more, not have the injuries, but at the end of the day, we won it as a team, and I’m happy to be a part of that. “I’m happy to be the first Southern California person to bring it back home.”
In the process, he has added another compelling chapter to a growing story about hockey’s growth in the Golden State.
“Honestly, I thought everyone got rejuvenated about hockey here when the Kings won the Cup in 2012 and again in 2014,” Bennett said. “It showed anyone being from a market where hockey isn’t the No. 1 sport can go on to big things.”
Even though injuries limited him to 33 regular-season games and one playoff appearance, Bennett said the experience taught him a great deal.
“Things might not always go your way, you might not feel your best, but you can still work hard and still be a part of something big,” he said.
That approach comes as no surprise to Beebe, a former Western Michigan University player who will coach the California Titans’ 16U AAA team this season.
“He returned from Pittsburgh the Friday after they won the Cup, and he was up Monday morning and back at the gym,” Beebe said. “He works hard, but doesn’t talk about it. The guy just walks the walk.”
In addition to being a standout roller hockey player, the 24-year-old Bennett played with an elite group on the ice. His L.A. Selects Pee Wee team included four other players who have reached the NHL – former Anaheim Duck Emerson Etem, Matt Nieto with San Jose, Matt Konan with Philadelphia and Jason Zucker with Minnesota. Several more are playing professionally.
“He was a strong player from Day 1,” said Sandy Gasseau, who began coaching in California when Bennett was a Mite. “He was very coachable and very driven. He loved to compete. Whereas most kids his age would run around the rink before or after practice, he would sit and watch older kids practice to try to learn.”
Bennett said his turning point came in 2008 when he was heading into his second year of 18U AAA hockey with the L.A. Jr. Kings.
“My first year of 18 AAA (2007-08), our team had more than 20 guys on it and I didn’t put up big numbers,” he said. “A lot of other players were at the forefront. That summer, I went to a (USA Hockey) Select Festival in Minnesota and just tore it up. I also grew three or four inches (to 6-foot-2) and felt better about my skating.
“The next season, I went back to (coach) Jack Bowkus’ team, and in those eight months (August to March 2009), things really turned around.”
Another year of experience and maturity helped Bennett, Bowkus said.
“He was a go-to guy his first year, but he came in as a 16 playing with 18s,” Bowkus said. “He figured out the game more and took more responsibility at both ends of the ice. He didn’t focus on his stats. We also had a lot of returning players, and he got to play with his older brother, Wade.”
Bennett put up 58 points in 46 games that season and moved onto the radar of college and junior scouts with a performance against the Chicago Mission at a Tier 1 Elite Hockey League showcase.
“We were down four or five goals and he just took the game into his own hands and eventually tied it,” Bowkus said. “That was when he turned into a player who could control a game.”
Junior teams in three leagues – Penticton (BCHL), Tri-City (USHL) and Calgary (WHL) – were salivating, and Bennett eventually chose Penticton. The move worked as he piled up 120 points in 56 games, including 41 goals, and added 14 more in 15 postseason games.
That season included a commitment to the University of Denver and was followed by him becoming the highest-picked California-born and –trained player (20th overall) at the 2010 NHL Draft at the Staples Center on June 25.
Bennett’s resilience was tested again six years to the day when on Day 2 of the draft and 12 days after their Cup triumph, the Penguins traded him to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round draft choice.
“It wasn’t a surprise at all,” Bennett said. “I had a feeling.
“I love the Penguins, they treated me well. I just had a hard time staying healthy. Now I have a new opportunity to thrive.”
In New Jersey, he will be reunited with the general manager, Ray Shero, who drafted him, and a coach, John Hynes, for whom he’s played for in the American Hockey League.
“(Hynes) helped me a lot,” Bennett said. “He helped me develop more structure to my game and raise my compete level.”
Shero told NHL.com that Bennett’s upside (he has 45 points in 129 NHL games) is appealing.
“I think Beau needs a change,” the GM said. “He’s a young player still. Let’s see if he can take advantage of it. When he has played he’s been a real good player and sometimes the best player on the ice, I’ve seen it.”
Gasseau is another who’s seen it, and he believes Bennett’s drive will help him thrive.
“When you get a player like Beau, you want to coach him forever,” Gasseau said. “He is such a competitor.”
Top parade photo/Pittsburgh Penguins; Stanley Cup photo/Getty Images
– Chris Bayee