November 20, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Bennett's Return: Back From College Hockey Purgatory

by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer

(photo: Dave Stluka/Wisconsin Athletics)

(photo: Dave Stluka/Wisconsin Athletics)

The old adage says, if you love it, let it go — if it returns it's yours forever. The college hockey world must have some serious emotions for Brett Bennett.

The junior goalie, in his first year at Wisconsin, is making a solid, if not yet loud comeback after splashing his way onto the scene at Boston University three years ago. As a highly-touted recruit out of the USNTDP, Bennett posted 16 wins to go with a 2.63 goals against and a less-than-sparkling .888 save percentage after seizing the starting job during his sophomore year for the Terriers. While a successful goalie isn't anything out of the norm on Comm. Ave, the next chapter in Bennett's story took a detour.

Following the 2007-08 season, BU issued a statement, saying the team and Bennett were going separate ways; a college hockey divorce, so to speak. BU simply needed better goaltending if it were to compete for a national title — which it did — but this also intensified whispers in the community about an attitude problem and clashes beween Bennett and the coaching staff. Whether or not the rumors were true, Bennett refuses to get into specifics about what led to ties being cut.

"Boston is a great place," he said. "I enjoyed my time there; I played for a great coach in a great school, great city. It was an unfortunate situation."

So why not just go pro? Selected by Phoenix in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the thought certainly had to cross Bennett's mind, at least briefly.

"It wasn't really an option," he says. "I had to get things together with my game and with my life."

So he took both to the Indiana Ice of the USHL, and put his game under the tutelage of coach Jeff Blashill, who was in his first year after leaving Miami, where he was an assistant under Enrico Blasi. Blashill helped pioneer some changes.

"It's nice when your head coach used to be a goalie," Bennett laughs. "He taught me good work habits, focus – all the little things he brought to my game. I couldn't have asked for it to work out any better."

"He came to us probably humbled," Blashill said. "He came ready to listen, work hard and get better."

While Bennett and Blashill teamed up to win the 2009 Clark Cup, it wasn't all saves and smiles, as Bennett, forgotten by many in college hockey community, endured watching his old BU teammates roll to an NCAA title.

"It was bittersweet," he says. "I was happy for my friends and former teammates. You wish you were a part of it, but I couldn't do anything about it."

Instead, Bennett caught the eye of Badgers coach Mike Eaves, who was in the market for a goalie. Despite having heard rumblings about the goalie's time in Boston, Eaves let his conversations with Blashill and Bennett be his divining rod.

"Coming out West might be a fresh start for him," Eaves says. "You can tell he's a little bit older. He's being a good teammate – he's everything we've hoped for this season."

"It wasn't much of a transition," Bennett says. "I've played college hockey before. It's a world of difference [in Madison]. Both [BU and Wisconsin] are good programs, I've felt comfortable here since Day One. The guys embraced me as a junior, which is different coming in and not knowing anybody. I live with the captain, Blake Geoffrion, who took me in. It's exciting that we're doing so well."

Thus far, splitting time with fellow junior Scott Gudmandson, Bennett has put up a 4-2 record, paired with a 1.84 GAA and .911 save percentage, while being an intergral part of the Wisconsin's rise to the No. 15 ranking in the country – perhaps the best indicator of what Bennett has brought back to college hockey this time around.

"The biggest thing is maturity," he says. "That, and knowing how things work at this level."

Something not lost on Eaves.

"[The goalies] have been pushing each other," the coach says. "It's pretty competitive thoughout the team. Brett never quits on a puck, he plays the puck very well. He's one of the best athlete's we've ever had play goal. There's not much more we can ask for."

What a difference a year makes – and who knows what one more will bring. If the play at Wisconsin's Kohl Center is any indicator, it could mean another championship, and vindication for a goalie once forgotten about.

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