Benik, Brodzinski debuts fit freshmen theme for Huskies

Freshmen roommates at St. Cloud State University, Jonny Brodziniski and Joey Benik have high aspirations for 2013.

Johnny Brodzinski leads the team with a +14 rating so far this season. Photo by Bill Jones
Johnny Brodzinski leads the team with a +14 rating so far this season. Photo by Bill Jones

Each has taken a different path into 2013 but both hope to have one path leading to WCHA and even national championship success this spring.

Both came into St. Cloud with high expectations. Brodzinski, a Blaine High School graduate, had two successful seasons with the USHL’s Fargo Force and the knowledge that his father, Mike, had played for Herb Brooks in the 1980s at SCSU.

Expectations for Benik, a St. Francis High School graduate, were even higher following an outstanding two-season run in British Columbia, playing for the Penection Vees. The Vees won a Canadian national championship last season (RBC Cup, Tier I junior) and Benik was among the leaders on a star-studded roster which won 42 straight games. Benik finished with 152 points in 120 BCHL games, led the league with 66 assists and was second in scoring with 96 points after garnering All-Rookie team honors in 2010-11.

Freshman Joey Benik collected an assist in his first collegiate hockey game Dec. 27.  Photo by Bill Jones
Freshman Joey Benik collected an assist in his first collegiate hockey game Dec. 27. Photo by Bill Jones

Benik had to wait for his SCSU debut until Dec. 27 after breaking his leg during a non-contact drill 30 minutes into the first practice of the season.

“He was upset right away but it didn’t dampen his spirits too much,” Brodzinski said. “He never really got down. It was always about how he can help the team and get back as quick as possible.”

“I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t go flying into the boards or anything,” Benik said. “I took the skate off and the leg was swollen so we took an X-ray and got the bad news.”

This wasn’t the first time. Benik broke his right femur before his freshman year of high school but he didn’t miss any games.

“I learned you can’t take anything for granted,” Benik said.

While he couldn’t skate, Benik remained part of the team attending each practice, while he completed physical therapy and weight training, and was at each home game. “It’s never fun watching a team from the sideline but I learned a lot,” Benik said.

So far, Benik said his leg feel good and other than some initial soreness where his skate rubbed skin at the break, he’s back.

“It was nice to be back out there,” he said

But there was a big difference between the rare Thursday game and Friday, according to Benik.

There were first-game nerves, confidence in the newly-healed injury and going at full-speed, not too mention playing in front of a couple of dozen friends and family closer to home, Benik said.

“I had some family visit in Canada, but to be so close to home now, I really appreciate their support,” he said.

That experience from the bench helped calm Benik when it came time to strap on his skates for his first game against RPI Dec. 27.

“I was probably skating around more than I should have,” he said about that first shift. “It felt good to be out there, but I was all over the place. It happened so fast.

Benik knew his chance to shine would come. Sure enough, 12:33 into the third period he collected an assist on Cory Thorson’s goal in a 4-3 loss.

“Jimmy [Murray] slipped the puck to me through the defenseman’s legs and I chipped it over the defenseman’s stick to Cory,” Benik said. “It was a cool experience but a really good play by the other guys.”

Friday he was on a line with senior captain Ben Hanowski and Nic Dowd.

Freshmen leaders

Through Dec. 17, 18 of the 21 SCSU goals scored came from its freshman class and Brodzinski had a hand in 13 of them, including seven goals.

Brodzinski is on his way to making a name for himself among the Huskies hockey faithful as a freshman winger with a team-high plus-14 player rating (55 shots is second best) and 13 points in 20 games.

His goal of being named WCHA Rookie-of-the-Week came to fruition as he was honored after a three-point weekend in a sweep of Colorado College, Dec. 14-15.

Brodzinski let his dad know about the award by a phone call during the morning drive home for Christmas. “He was so pumped and said that was unbelievable. The entire off-season he told me to get after it,” Brodzinski said about his father challenging him. “The whole year has been so surreal so far. Being on the top line and top power play – to be a goal-scorer and to make such an impact has been fantastic.”

Being a winger on a line with one of the nation’s top scorers (senior Drew LeBlanc has 28 points, 22 assists) and fellow freshman winger Kalle Jensen (17 points, 11 goals) means something is clicking for all three which have the Huskies at the top of the WCHA standings (9-5-0, 12-8-0 overall).

It didn’t take Brodzinski long to score his first collegiate goal in the second series of the season.

He lifted a backhander over the Alabama-Huntsville goalie on a breakaway in an 8-3 win Oct. 19.

“My backhand has been my move all my life and [the goalie] gave it to me, so I had to take it,” Brodzinski said.

Brodzinski will have a chance to face his former Bengals linemate Nick Bjugstad for the first time as the University of Minnesota travels to the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud Feb. 8-9. “Oh yeah, I can’t wait for that. It should be fun,” Brodzinski said. “I’m sure that’s already sold out.”

Jason Olson is at [email protected]