On Monday, Matt Benning got back on the ice at Rogers Place along with Kris Russell, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Benson, and Stuart Skinner as the NHL launched Phase 2 of its return to play plan, and the fourth-year defenceman jumped on a conference call with reporters to discuss how it went.
Seeing as this was the first time since March 11th that Matt Benning was able to get on the ice with his teammates, I was really interested in hearing what he thought about how it went.
“It’s one thing to train, it’s another thing to get on the ice. On your first ice session, you’re more or less trying to get your legs under you and your feet under you. I think we spent a good 15 to 20 minutes getting that part of our game dialled in. I felt a lot better than what I expected.”
When asked about where his game was at after such an extended time off the ice, Benning admitted that this time on the shelf has not been kind to him, though, things weren’t as bad as they were playing out in his mind.
“Some people can get out there and pick up where they left off, but speaking for myself, when I’m off the ice for two days it feels like I’ve never skated in my life before. Three months was a little nerve-wracking, but I felt better than expected.”
Chucking about the general oddness of the circumstance, Benning explained that getting back on the ice brought the same nerves he felt early on in his career.
“It’s definitely a different circumstance. Besides at my first training camp, you walk in (to camp), you know what’s expected, you kind of know how the days are going to go. Today, I had that same feeling like at my first training camp. Not knowing. There were people to help us through, make sure we were doing the right things to stay safe, wear masks, proper hygiene… It was exciting to get back to the rink. But it was a different feeling.”
Not only was it important for the players to get back on the ice to start getting their legs back under them, but there was also an acknowledgement of the broader picture and how much sports will mean to fans everywhere.
“It’s important for everybody. We’ve been cooped up for so long and it’s such a hockey focused country, and Alberta is very passionate about their sports. Hockey offers some hope for people and it’ll be a unique experience when it does start back up.”
If the NHL has its way, training camps could open in mid-July with the postseason tournament starting in early August, but for Benning, there is also the added wrinkle that his wife Janelle is due to give birth at the end of this month. Seeing as Edmonton is in the running to be a hub city, the Oilers would have to quarantine themselves in hotels as opposed to staying at home, which would certainly be difficult for a new father.
“My wife’s due in two or three weeks and when that starts up, it’ll be such a tease for me that I can’t drive 10 (minutes) down the road and see my new baby. I’ll have to roll with the punches. Our facilities are so big with lots of space, and with what I experienced at the rink today, they know what they’re doing and I have total confidence in them. My wife’s a nurse, so she knows how that all goes. It’s uncomfortable, but that’s part of it.”
Despite the nervousness and questions that remain unanswered, Benning is confident that hockey fans will be ready for hockey to come back provided that the league is able to do so safely and that it will be a rallying point for all Albertans.
“It doesn’t get any better than when the weather’s nice outside and you can enjoy a drink and then watch playoff hockey. Regardless of when we start, the people of Alberta will be extremely excited for us.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Matt. Even seeing the five of you practicing a little bit on Monday was enough to get me excited about the possibility of what’s to come. Fingers crossed we’re able to keep this ship moving forward.
THE FULL INTERVIEW
If you’re interested in watching the whole video, Benning spoke for just under 13 minutes and there was plenty that I didn’t transcribe for this recap, but the whole call still worth the time if you’re looking for something Oilers-related to watch.