By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
VICTORIA, British Columbia – Few hockey players can say they played both junior and pro in the same city. When that city is your hometown, the situation is even more unique.
Defenceman Jordie Benn, who graduated last spring as captain of the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League, will begin his pro career with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL after being assigned yesterday from the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.
“It’s amazing that up to now I’ve never had to leave town to pursue my hockey career — from Peninsula minor to the Peninsula Panthers in Junior B to the Victoria Salsa and Grizzlies in Junior A and now Salmon Kings in pro,” said Benn. “Staying home to play pro rarely happens and is a win-win for me this season.”
The Salmon Kings open camp Friday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre with fitness testing in the morning and the first practice session at 2 p.m.
This will be the 21-year-old Benn’s third pro camp in the span of a few blurring weeks, beginning with the Canucks prospects, Moose and now Salmon Kings. At every step, Benn has proved a minor revelation.
“In Manitoba, [Moose GM] Craig Heisinger and [head coach] Scott Arniel told me: ‘You opened up some eyes.’ Coming out of Junior A, they thought I was going to be only an all right player.”
Benn admits it’s been a crash course in the pro game since deciding not to take an NCAA athletic scholarship offer from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
“It takes time coming from the BCHL and jumping up to play with the big boys,” he said. “I’m learning it’s a huge jump, actually. When I get used to the speed up here I should be fine. It hits you that there are a lot of big, good, fast players out there trying to make it in this game and you only have a small window to reach that next level.”
Benn said Grizzlies forward Justin Courtnall, who will eventually be going through the system of the Tampa Bay Lightning, pushed him relentlessly over the summer when the two worked out on the weights.
“There are big players in junior but these pro guys are a different type of big,” said Benn. “Your body must be up to the task of dealing with that, so Justin pushed me the whole summer to get ready for this.”
Also sent to Victoria from the Moose camp yesterday were veteran Salmon Kings blue-liner Matt Kelly and 21-year-old forward Jacob Dietrich, who made an impact last spring after signing late in the season with Victoria once his WHL junior career had ended as captain of the Portland Winter Hawks.
“Manitoba camp was a good experience. It gave me a glimpse of the next level and reinforced what I need to focus on this year in Victoria,” said Dietrich.