(Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
In our 5th installment of Who Are You I caught up with Oilers rookie defender Matt Benning. We discussed college life, living on our own and how he had the pleasure of helping Jesse Puljujarvi learn the English language.
Jason Gregor: Jesse Puljujärvi was your roommate in Edmonton before he went to Bakersfield, how much Finnish did you learn?
Matt Benning: To be honest, just a few swear words because that’s kind of what I picked up on and asked him about. I probably know more Swedish because there are a bunch more Swedes on the team and that type of thing but just the swears. There’s probably just three swear words that I picked up. That’s probably not a good habit, but that’s what I picked up.
Gregor: So now do you swear at opposing Finnish players on the ice?
Benning: No, I’m pretty quiet on the ice. If I could or if I would, I definitely would but no, I’m pretty quiet on the ice.
Gregor: Jesse talked a lot about how he wanted to learn more English. Were you quizzing him or were you trying to teach him as much English as possible before he went down?
Benning: Yeah, for sure. When we went out for dinner he’d always ask me what is this and I’d say the word and I would make him say it back to me. Pronunciation is big and so every day I was teaching him a new word. One of his new words is ‘appreciated’, so he had a tough time saying it but he’s getting it down now. I texted him last night just correcting him with some things, it just makes it a little bit easier for him.
Gregor: First year in the National Hockey League, you’re one of the rare players who has a father who has played over six hundred games, eighteen of them here in Edmonton. How often do you and dad talk about the game?
Benning: Well he comes to basically all of my games, so after the game I give him a call. He knows, I’m at the age now where I know where I screwed up or I know where I can make a better play, but often I’d ask him what can I do about this if I’m struggling with this or that. So he offers that type of guidance and he’s definitely there for me more on the spirit side of things. If I have a tough game he tells me to keep going and that sort of thing. He definitely gives me my space, but he offers his wisdom, that’s for sure.
Gregor: What do you miss most about college life?
Benning: Just hanging out with all of the buddies and living with all of them. I lived with four guys. That was definitely fun and just the times hanging out on the weekends, you basically do everything together there, where here it’s a little bit different. Guys have kids, and families and wives and that sort of thing, and they do their own thing off of the ice so that was definitely something I had to get used to. I was not going to the dining hall with eighteen other guys after practice this year. It’s been good though. I mean we have groups of guys that go and eat and hang out, so it’s been good.
Gregor: Were you a part of any fraternity when you were in college?
Benning: No at our school, it’s not the biggest thing. I mean if you talked to Drake or North Dakota, it might be a different story, but my school was in downtown Boston so the sorority or frat life wasn’t as big as some of those other state schools, but the hockey group of guys was big enough. We had about thirty guys. It was great.
Gregor: When you are driving around or at home, what’s playing on your iPod?
Benning: I’d say mostly Country. I’m a big Country guy. It’s kind of like when we’re at the rink we’re getting amped up and Country kind of cools it off, so to say. It’s a mix between Country and some rap in there as well.
Gregor: Who’s your go to country artist?
Benning: I wouldn’t say that I have a go-to country artist. If you talk to Kris Russell, he’s into more of the old school country where I’m more into the new country. I like Florida Georgia Line, I think they’re good. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see them here when they were here whenever it was, a month or so ago.,I like their music.
Gregor: Best Country concert you’ve been to?
Benning: I haven’t been to many. When I was young I went to Shania Twain with my mom and that was pretty special, she’s pretty amazing.
Gregor: Now what about rap concerts? Have you been to one?
Benning: This year I went to Kanye West. That was kind of the only one I’ve ever been to. That was definitely cool. I went with some of the guys.
Gregor: In Boston, was there a rap scene in the small clubs, because those types are a big deal I’m told. Those are the rap concerts you need to check out.
Benning: Yeah I mean, at school we didn’t really go to too many concerts. We were busy and focused on hockey, but at the clubs and the bars when we went there was definitely some of that type of music.
Gregor: Are you good in the kitchen?
Benning: Um, I think so but if you ask my mom probably she’d say no. At school I learned a lot of things about cooking on your own and that was definitely something I took out of school. I can make most things and the Internet helps you making anything. In terms of just grilling or making stir fry I can do all of that but it’s pretty simple.
Gregor: A lot of your teammates were rather surprised when you fought versus Ottawa. I think sometimes the NCAA guys might have a bit of a stereotype. Did you find out that they were surprised after the fact?
Benning: I think the NCAA gets that stereotype of being soft, but I played in the Alberta Major Junior League and when I was sixteen I fought a bunch of times. I mean when something happens like that you have to stick up for your teammates and I think that it shows. Your teammates respect you a little more there. So I’m sure they were all surprised because they think of me as the young college guy, but you have to do what you have to do.
Gregor: How does mom react when you fight?
Benning: Ah, that’s a good question, I don’t know. She probably just doesn’t want me to get my face wrecked up and lose my teeth, but she was pretty excited when that happened and that I did OK. So she was fine with that. She was used to that from when my dad played. My dad liked to get involved in the rough stuff. In the NHL back then it was a rougher fighting league. So I think that she’s used to it.
Gregor: This year you and Mark Letestu have dropped the mitts, which surprised some people while most fans expect guys like Maroon, Kassian, Lucic, Nurse and Gryba and those types of guys to fight. Those players always seem excited when an unexpected teammate drops the mitts. Who was the most excited amongst your teammates after your fight?
Benning: Probably Kassian. Kassian or Patty Maroon. They were pretty excited. They probably just didn’t expect it, especially those guys who drop the mitts, and are willing to and are good at it. I think they respect it the most. I mean it was good, the funny thing is that a month ago I asked Kassian, I said ‘Hey do you mind showing me a thing or two about fighting, just in case I need to protect myself?’ And he said ‘Oh no, you’re fine, you won’t get into a fight.’ So it happens, but it was OK.
Gregor: I guess you showed him that you didn’t necessarily need some teaching?
Benning: Yeah, I mean I’ve fought before. In Junior I had nine fights, that was probably good enough, but in the moment you just kind of try to do your best, you don’t really think about it or anything.
Gregor: Outside of hockey, what are your main interests?
Benning: In the summer time I golf and I love water sports. My dad has a boat. I love to water ski and do all sorts of outdoor things. I’m not a hunter like Grybs or [Matt Hendricks] Hendo but I like to go outdoors and quad and do outdoor things.
Gregor: And what degree did you receive in Boston?
Benning: Well I’m still working on it because I left after my third year. I have three classes left to graduate with a business management degree.
Gregor: And I know that your father Brian owns a company. Are you planning on getting into business when you’re done playing hockey?
Benning: Yeah, I think so. I mean I’ve worked there, done different things in his business for the past five or six years so I kind of know what it’s about. When that time comes we’ll see what happens, but it’s definitely an option.
Gregor: Pat Maroon told me ‘Do I look like a guy who reads books?’ He doesn’t read books. Do you read books and if so, favourite book?
Benning: I do read books. Actually on the plane, I never thought that I would read books, just from being in school, I hated reading. But on the plane it’s nice especially just after a game to just relax and get your mind off things. I’m reading the Big Miss. Hank Haney wrote it about Tiger Woods. It’s pretty good.
Gregor: Instruments, any skills?
Benning: No. I wish. My mom made me do piano when I was a young kid and I did that for probably three years and I got decent at it, but I obviously lost it now.
Gregor: And are you a dog or cat guy?
Benning: Definitely a dog guy, we’ve always had dogs. I love dogs, when the time comes I’d love to get one.
Gregor: What kind?
Benning: I’m a lab guy. We’ve had a yellow lab, a chocolate lab and a black lab.
Gregor: And with Jesse down in Bakersfield right now, you’ve talked about the transition from living with four guys, to being in Edmonton and now suddenly you’re living solo. How’s that?
Benning: It’s weird, it’s different. Jesse was great and kind. I drove him around and we bonded pretty well there. I definitely miss him, but he’s doing well down there and developing so it’s definitely a change. The house is a little empty right now but I’m sure he’ll be back up eventually.
Benning has arguably been the most pleasant surprise on the Oilers this year. Very few had him pegged to make the team, never mind play 36 solid games. He’s an older rookie at 22 than Oilers fans are accustomed to, and the Oilers felt he was mature enough to have him be the one to help Puljujarvi adapt to life in Canada.
Benning really enjoyed that experience with Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi spent Christmas day with Benning and his parents before his parents arrived on Boxing Day from Finland. The fact he could cook and had a bit more life experience coming from college made him a good fit to room with Puljujarvi.