Photo credit:Summer Dutton-AIC Athletics
Often times we ask players why they play hockey. For AIC’s Blake Bennett the answer was simple. The forward from Grand Island New York said, “Hockey is in my family” also he mentioned that everyone in his family also wears number nine.
A lot of Bennett’s story to get him to his current career year with AIC focuses on how he developed and who helped him get there. First, let’s talk about his time with the Charlotte Rush in the USPHL.
As Blake said, “Charlotte was the biggest development year of my life.” He praised Ryan Cruthers, the coach who developed him, and said to Blake, as Bennett remembered, “if I don’t figure out ( being in shape) then I wouldn’t have a career in hockey.” He praised his captain Tyler Dill for working with him that year. The next year, he followed Cruthers to Corpus Christi in the NAHL, Cruthers made him come to Corpus Christi and earn a spot in tryouts. Nothing was guaranteed to Bennett, who had guaranteed time with other NAHL teams that next season, but it did not matter, he wanted to finish his junior hockey career with Cruthers. He also praised Matt Dibble, director of scouting with the Rush, he is the reason he went to Charlotte, a social media message from him was the thing that got Cruthers and Blake connected.
Coming into the year with Charlotte Blake was honest in saying “ I thought I knew everything.” After the mile run test, he did not finish it on time, “I knew I was a good hockey player but didn’t have the legs. I was so out of shape that all the guys thought I would be on the Elite team.” The Elite team is the level below the Premier group where Blake had a superb season.
As to why he went to AIC, Blake said “I heard a lot about Coach Lang when I was talking to schools, and my head coach in Corpus Christi, Ryan Cruthers pushed me in that direction.” Bennett had three other schools at the Division One level that were interested in him.
The first half of his freshman year he couldn’t skate with the team, and he took the redshirt season from that year. Last year he benefited from how hard everyone practices in practice he said that “for me, I would believe that our practices are harder than games. That’s what makes it so easy for guys to step right in and score a goal. The competitiveness between our team is the thing, everyone wants to win everything.”
Off the ice, Bennett added that being with “the guys, off the ice, we make anything we do fun with each other. You could put us anywhere and we’d still have an absolute blast. Everyone is great people here.”
He also praised Chris Dodero for his help in skill development, “he threw on his tracksuit and was just showing us drills to do and it was cool, I’ve seen him do that swipe ( that he did against Niagara in the three on three overtime to start the play that leads to the game-winning goal) millions of times in practice, just not against me.” Dodero has helped as Bennett has grown in his patience on the ice to make the right play. Blake compared his game to “ a Walmart version of Kucherov.”
Blake did not come to Fargo with the team last March as he was not playing, and only so many could fly. He said of that scratch and the motivation from it “I told myself I’m not going through that again, and I got in the best shape of my life this summer.” Eric Lang told him to get in shape and he got in the best shape of his life. The scratch from the Fargo trip was motivation and arguably the start to the career year the forward is having.
Bennett added one more Coach Lang story that stands out, and it again centered on fitness. He said, “freshman year me and one other person didn’t finish the mile, next day Lang comes up to us and said I run a six-minute mile in my loafers. He could probably do that.”
His current Head Coach Eric Lang took the time to discuss some things about Blake as well, on credit for getting Blake to be a division one hockey player Lang said “Ryan Cruthers (former coach)deserves a lot of the credit. He said if you can ever get him in shape and committed you will have a special player. That’s exactly what has happened.”
On his growth as a player, Lang added of Bennett, “He is a roller hockey kid with incredible offensive instincts. He has been so committed away from the puck he is now trustworthy in all situations.”
On Blake’s conditioning, Lang added “Blake is now at the conditioning level of a division one athlete. It was never about the ability for him.”
On what he has gone through to get here Lang added “Blake has gone through an amazing amount of adversity in his life. He has had to grow up faster in the game of life by no choice of his own. Any on-ice struggle fails in comparison to what he has been through.”
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