MONTREAL – Captaining the winningest hockey program in NCAA history comes with a steep learning curve, but Mac Bennett already has a leg up in that department at the University of Michigan.
Charged with leading a Wolverines squad that failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 23 years in 2012-13, the Narragansett, RI native will look to use that defeat and disappointment as motivation come October.
“Being an alternate captain [in 2012-13], I think one of the things we figured out towards the end of the year was that we have to be closer as a team right from the get-go,” confirmed the 6-foot, 195-pound defenseman, who was elected the 84th captain in team history after tallying six goals and 18 points in 31 games in his junior campaign. “I’m really big on getting guys together as much as possible, whether it’s going to the movies or going bowling. If we can gel as a team off the ice, come game time we’re going to have guys going to war for each other.”
Having learned several of the finer points of leadership from former Michigan captain Luke Glendening – a player the incoming senior refers to as “probably the hardest worker [he’s] ever seen in [his] entire life” – Bennett’s formula for righting the ship in Ann Arbor comes down to consistently practicing what he preaches.
“I want to make sure that we have every guy in this locker room working towards the same goal,” mentioned Bennett, who was selected 79th overall by the Canadiens in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “I can talk all I want, but if I don’t back it up, people aren’t going to listen. I just have to make sure that I bring it in the weight room, I bring it in practice and I bring it in games. If I can do that, people are going to listen.
“I think my words do carry weight, but more than anything else, I think I’m a guy who leads by example,” added the 22-year-old. “I’m pretty easy going, but I’m stern when I need to be. Wearing the ‘C’ means that I’m going to have to step my game up and prove [the coaching staff] right.”
That’s something the musicology major has been doing throughout the better part of his career at Michigan. Paired with former Wolverines standout and Jets prospect Jacob Trouba on the blue line last season, the duo was tasked with going up against the best the opposition had to offer.
“It’s been really fun to watch [his progress],” praised Michigan associate head coach Billy Powers, who has guided the hockey careers of rearguards Jack Johnson, Greg Pateryn, Matt Hunwick and Mike Komisarek during his two-decade tenure behind the bench at Yost Ice Arena. “[Mac] walked in to Michigan as a kind of thoroughbred skater with some pretty good offensive instincts and had to figure out how to be a three-zone defenseman to be effective. He embraced that, which is part of the reason he’s come so far.”
Making several trips to southeast Michigan this past season to get a firsthand look at the top defensive prospect, Canadiens player development coach Patrice Brisebois believes Bennett’s evolution is a by-product of his mental make-up.
“He’s very mature for his age. He always asks questions, and he’s always looking to improve,” noted the 18-year NHL veteran, who was pleased to see his pupil keep his promise to reach the 195-pound mark to start the Canadiens’ development camp in early July. “That means he’s got that work ethic. He knows, ‘If I’m going to make it, I need to get better and stronger.’ That means that he cares.
“He loves the game. He loves to compete, and he hates losing,” continued Brisebois. “I think he’s going to be the perfect fit for that team [at Michigan]. He’s got a lot of things to prove next year. He wants to be one of the best in the NCAA, and he likes that pressure. He likes the challenge.”
Labelled by Powers as an “elite skater with incredible explosion and incredible endurance”, Bennett is poised to tackle his latest test head on during his final season in the collegiate ranks.
“At this point in his career, the leadership he’s going to provide – and the leadership he’s already started to provide – is something we haven’t seen in a while here. He’s off to a terrific start and very early on is proving that he’s going to be one of the top captains we’ve had at Michigan,” confirmed Powers, whose time with Bennett during the upcoming season will be spent helping him become increasingly comfortable in his new role as opposed to focusing primarily on X’s and O’s.
“Mac Bennett will be a dominant college defenseman [this season]. We expect him to be the most dominant offensive and defensive defenseman in the Big Ten. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” added Powers. “Every night, there will be someone in the building who will say – ‘That No. 37 is special’.”
Slated to play in excess of 25 minutes per game on Michigan’s back end, the former USHL standout plans on spending the remainder of his summer fine-tuning his game and preparing for what he and the rest of the Wolverines hope will be a season to remember.
“I just want to be a force on the ice. My goal is to be noticeable every shift I’m out there, and the easiest way for me to do that is to skate,” shared Bennett, who will look to lead Michigan back to the Frozen Four for the first time since a heart-breaking overtime defeat to Minnesota-Duluth in the championship game in 2011. “This is my last chance at a [national title]. After this, college hockey is done for me, so I want to make sure I go out with a bang.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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