Everyone remembers the infamous Wayne Gretzky trade. Back in 1988, then-Oilers owner Peter Pocklington shocked the sports world by dealing The Great One to L.A. in the biggest deal in hockey history. The cornerstone of the deal coming back the other way was a highly-touted youngster named Jimmy Carson. No one expected him to replace Gretzky, per se, but they expected him to replace a lot of the offence that headed south to Cali. Talk about pressure. If anyone can sympathize with Carson it would be Ryan Benesch. After being drafted first overall in 2006 by the San Jose Stealth, he was the centrepiece of a trade that sent Colin Doyle to California. Doyle might not have been the NLL’s Gretzky — more like Steve Yzerman, or maybe Cam Neely — but he was a superstar player. Benesch had all eyes on him as he arrived in Toronto expected to one day fill Doyle’s shoes. Sooner rather than later was preferable. An uneviable task, to be sure.
“It was definitely tough being traded for a guy like Colin Doyle, one of the best guys in the league,” said Benesch. ”For me to be a rookie and get traded for him was pretty big pressure put on me,” said Benesch. “When you trade a player like Colin Doyle you have to replace him with somebody. The coaching staff and management just expected a lot more than what I could do at the time.”
Benesch is quick to say he enjoyed his time in Toronto, learned a lot and holds no ill will or bad feelings against anyone in the organization, or the organization itself. He’s just stating the obvious. However, he didn’t fold under the pressure, instead scoring an impressive 33 goals and 25 assists in 15 games in 2007. The following year, his production dwindled as he put up just 19 goals and 31 assists in 14 games and was subsequently traded in the off-season to the Edmonton Rush, where he was again looked at to be ‘The Man’ and add much-needed punch to a floundering offence.
In his one and only season in the Alberta capital, he collected 17 goals and 27 points in 14 games before being dealt to the Swarm, where last year he had his best season — a breakout year, if you will — with 46 goals and 49 assists.
It’s fair to say Benesch put himself into the league’s upper echelon of forwards with those numbers. This season, h’es followed it up with 22 goals and 46 points in eight games so far. He was ilindoor.com’s third star of the week after scoring four goals and seven points to lead the 5-3 Swarm to a 15-11 victory over the Roughnecks at the Saddledome Saturday.
Despite his rise to prominence, Benesch — like almost every NLL player I’ve ever spoken to — is humble and not quick to pump his own tires when asked if he considers himself one of the best players in the league.
“I think I would a little bit,” said Benesch. “But I still understand I have a lot of growing to do. I have a lot of things I need to get better at. I’m only one player.”I can’t take all the credit. I play with some great players in Minnesota. We’ve had some great teams here.”
When watching Benesch have his way with the Roughnecks Saturday night, the most impressive thing that stood out was how well-rounded his game is now. He scored two of his goals on great outside snipes. He said working on his shot has been a focus of his for some time now. Ever since a certain coach pointed out how valuable it would be to his goal of turning pro one day.
“It’s funny, but there’s one thing I’ll never, ever forget as long as I live,” said Benesch. “Colin Doyle used to coach me in Kitchener for the Junior A team and I would mostly score my goals in tight, on top of the goalie, pull a few moves, this and that. And one thing Colin said to me — which stuck — is that in order to play in the NLL I would have to develop an outside shot.
“I took that advice and practice hard on it. I really try to dial in my stick and pick those corners from far out because nowadays teams have big, strong defenders and it’s tough to get to the net. When I have a shot, I need to make good on it.”
Benesch, a lefty, has become one half of the most potent offensive duo in the league right now along with righty Callum Crawford. The two players complement each other and give opposing defences headaches when it comes to containing and trying to limit the damage they do in any given game.
“Callum is just a great player,” said Benesch. “He’s big and strong and has great hands. He draws a lot of attention to him when he has the ball. So, I just try and work myself open when he has the ball, give him a lane to either feed the ball or push it through. We definitely have a pretty good thing going here.”
Saturday’s win over Calgary was impressive. The Swarm dominated the Riggers — the previous week’s No.-1 team in this website’s power rankings — in almost every facet of the game. This despite a recent head coaching change. Benesch said the Swarm are a confident bunch right now — but not overconfident.
“There are a lot of things we still have to work on but (former head coach) Mike Lines this year put together a pretty good plan for our team and now Joe Sullivan is taking over the reins,” said Benesch. “Joe is a great coach and does a good job of getting us ready for games. We have excellent film sessions, good scouting reports, emails throughout the week. Joe makes sure we know who we are playing.”
Quick to credit the club’s underrated defence for a lot of their success, Benesch admitted the play of the club’s two rookie netminders (Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk) has been the biggest boon to the Swarm. No one — including the Swarm players — saw that coming.
“Coming into camp I think everyone thought (Anthony) Cosmo would be here and he’d be our saviour,” said Benesch. “It was no secret we’d had goalie issues for the last few years. No disrespect to Nick Patterson or Kevin Croswell, they played great. There was just certain things that didn’t happen we needed to. So, we made changes.
“Having two rookie goaltenders is certainly something different,” added Benesch, who is roommates with Kirk in Minny this season. “But it’s not like they are playing like rookies. It’s pretty incredible. They have known each other for a long time and support each other and they’re both playing great.”
Gotta give Andrew Suitor credit for dropping the mitts with Geoff Snider Saturday. The Minny captain came to the aid of Jordan MacIntosh and felt he had to slug it out with Snider. It was a quick fight and Suitor landed a good shot at the end to get the decision, although Snider got right back up and wanted more when the refs stepped in … John Grant Jr. — who scored his 500th goal Saturday night, joining an exclusive club-has 68 points in eight games, leading Dan Dawson by 17 points. Junior is on pace for a league record 136 points … The ageless John Tavares is second in power-play goals this season with nine (Junior has 12) … Nice to see Tracey Kelusky break out Saturday night with a hat-trick–one from the outside and two in tight … Would have given a pretty penny to be a fly on the wall in the Rock dressing room after they laid that egg against Washington. Well, a fly with ear plugs. Could only imagine how animated Troy Cordingley must have been … Luke Wiles continues to be the Bandits’ best offensive player this season, scoring four goals in the loss to Colorado … It’d be easier to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded that figure out the Wings this season. One game good, one game bad. Consistency seems elusive for them … Speaking of the Wings, Drew Westervelt was held to just a single goal on 13 shots Saturday. Dawson had just one goal on 11 shots. Rookie phenom Kevin Crowley scored three times on four shots … If I had a buck for every Roughnecks shot that hit Tyler Carlson square in the chestpad Saturday night I could have bought two beers (they’re 7 bucks a pop). Well maybe not two, but close. Terrible shooting — and passing — by Calgary’s offence for most of the night … Please, someone, make this awful idea of Twitter handles on jerseys go away. Now the Rush are going to do it. Oh, the humanity!The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to CalgarySun.com.
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