Photo by Rena Laverty
Matthew Beniers and his teammates on USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 Team aren’t taking anything for granted in their quest to leave the program with one more medal.
“You always have to have a chip on your shoulder,” the forward from Hingham, Massachusetts, said. “Once you think you've got it, you are done pretty much. That is a big thing for me and the team. We always have to have that chip on our shoulder as everybody is working hard and you have to work that much harder to be the best.”
That mindset was driven in to Beniers and his teammates during a sometimes challenging U17 season in Plymouth, Michigan, in which the squad didn’t win any tournaments.
“We were kind of at the bottom,” he said. “We just put our heads down and went to work, whether it was the on-the-ice or off-the-ice last spring and the start of this year, it is starting to pay off.”
The team has already won one international tournament this season and finished second in another, although the big one is still to come: The IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championships.
Beniers is the only player on this year’s NTDP roster who played in last year’s championship, when Team USA earned a bronze medal. He finished with two goals in the seven games.
In the semifinals, the U.S. lost “a heartbreaker” to Russia in a shootout, Beniers said, but they rebounded with a 5-2 win over Canada in the bronze-medal game.
“We had to turn around the next day and play in the bronze medal game,” he said. “The leaders on that team really came around and said we are going to get this medal for our country because that is what we do. We don’t give up when things get tough. I think that really put us into the mindset for the next game. We came out and we wanted it more than Canada.”
The Americans know they’ll need to want it again this year, although this time they do have one key advantage in that the tournament will be on home ice in Plymouth and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“Playing at home is helpful. You have the food — it’s huge,” Beniers said. “Not having to adjust to time changes is another big thing. I struggle with that. What will help us, we know how hard it is to win the tournament.
“Every team is good, even in the round robin or the quarterfinals. You have to treat every game as if it is your last. If we play like that, we should do well.”
Following the success they’ve had so far this season, Beniers is confident his squad will be ready.
“We have done everything right and we need to keep working hard,” he said. “I think it is a little confidence booster too, and we can play with those guys. We won (the first tournament) and then beat three out of four teams in the last one. We have to play the right way and, hopefully, we can win.”
While Beniers is eager to find success with Team USA this season, he’s also focused on improving his own game while with the program. The 6-foot-1, 168-pound forward won’t be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2021, but he’s making strides to get there.
Photo by Rena Laverty
In January, the Harvard University commit took part in the BioSteel All-American Game at USA Hockey Arena. Team USA, which was coached by former NHLer Mike Knuble, posted a 6-1 win over Team Gomez, which was made up of the top prospects from the United States Hockey League.
“It was really cool experience, and it was a good test for our team,” Beniers said. “There were a lot of scouts here and it was a chance for us to see if we wanted to play for ourselves or play for our team. I think we did a good job handling the pressure. It was fun playing against the best competition around. It was a good learning experience.”
Between all of the hard work, however, he’s making sure not to take for granted the opportunity to compete for the red, white and blue.
“It’s obviously very special,” he said. “It’s coming to a close and it’s kind of sad. You want to make every moment that you can wear it special and that is what is running through my mind and I’m sure a lot of the guys. We are trying to savior every moment we can with the crest.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.