August 22, 2020

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Ed Willes: Proud papa Jordie Benn is thriving in the playoff bubble

Jordie Benn of the Vancouver Canucks stretches in warm-ups prior to Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 19, 2020 in Edmonton.
Jordie Benn of the Vancouver Canucks stretches in warm-ups prior to Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 19, 2020 in Edmonton. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

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EDMONTON — When Jordie Benn rejoined the Vancouver Canucks, Travis Green wasn’t sure what the veteran defenceman would offer. Nor was he sure he wanted to find out.

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Benn, after all, had been away from the team for the better part of three weeks to attend the birth of his first child, daughter Billie Ann, and he wasn’t exactly an irreplaceable part before he left. He’d played exactly one game since Feb. 19. His place in the lineup had been taken by Oscar Fantenberg.

All things considered Green wasn’t even sure he wanted Benn inside the bubble.

Now? Let’s just say things have changed for all concerned.

“We probably weren’t fully committed to it until I talked to him about how he felt,” says Green, the Canucks’ head coach. “I wanted to see if there was any doubt about playing.

“There was never a doubt in his mind that he was ready to go. He probably knew he had to keep things simple in his first game. I think he’s looked stronger in every game since.”

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Benn, in fact, has emerged as a key piece for the Canucks in their series against the St. Louis Blues, which might be the perfect commentary on this bizarre playoff season. Friday night, the men of Green had a chance to close out the defending Stanley Cup champions in a late game after a spirited comeback win in Game 5 on Wednesday night gave them a 3-2 series lead.

Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues goes up against Oscar Fantenberg (middle) and Jordie Benn (right) of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 16, 2020 in Edmonton. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /PNG

In the 4-3 Canucks’ victory, Benn played 17 hard minutes and emerged as a presence in the third period when an injury to Alex Edler left the Canucks with five defencemen. With Benn offering a steady, composed performance, the makeshift defensive corps held the Blues to nine shots over the final 20 minutes as the Canucks protected a one-goal lead with a sturdy team game.

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The story there, of course, is it might have been the first time this season Benn’s steady, composed game made an impact on the Canucks’ blue-line, but say this for the man.

He has an impeccable sense of timing.

“Obviously it’s in the back of your head if (Edler) is going to be come back,” said Benn. “But you need the five guys who are out there to step up their game. You’re going to get more ice time and you’re going to be out in critical situations.”

Edler missed the third period of Game 5 after he suffered a gruesome cut to his ear. All indications were he’d dress for Game 6.

“To come in cold the way (Benn) did, I don’t think people understand that’s not easy to do,” said Green “That’s one thing about veterans. They can understand the magnitude of injuries or the situation you’re in.

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“He’s shown some composure in areas of the game where he hasn’t panicked with the puck. I know for us it meant a lot to hear the confidence he had in himself. You need to have confidence this time of year.”

Benn was hustled back in the lineup when Tyler Myers went down with an injury in Game 2, largely because of his prior experience in the post-season and not because of his play in the regular season. Prior to the March 12 pause in the NHL schedule, Benn had taken up permanent residence in the press box, dressing for just 44 of the Canucks’ 69 regular season games.

When the team reconvened in July Benn left for Dallas to be with his partner Jessi Kohout for the birth of their first child. He left camp on July 18. Billie Ann arrived on July 30. Benn returned to the Canucks six days later.

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“It needed to be done,” Benn says. “There wasn’t a chance I was going to miss the birth of my daughter.”

Still, the transition back to the lineup wasn’t exactly seamless. Benn flew commercially from Dallas to Edmonton and was immediately placed in quarantine for four days. He was tested daily over that span and cleared to start skating, which translated into four fun-filled days of bag skates with Canucks’ coaches before he resumed practising with the team.

Then Myers went down and Benn was selected over youngsters Olli Juolevi and Jalen Chatfield.

“Jordie can play both sides,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “He’s given us exactly what we expected from him.

“Travis has come to appreciate what experienced players offer in the playoffs.”

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Still, life inside the bubble hasn’t been easy for Benn. Billie Ann was six days old when he left for Edmonton. He FaceTimes every day with his partner and daughter but it still wears on a man.

As it happens, Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness sounded off on the stress of bubble life after his team eliminated the Calgary Flames on Thursday night. In a wild affair, the Flames opened a 3-0 lead before the Stars scored seven straight goals en route to a 7-3 win.

During the COVID Cup there have been a number of similar games and an emotional Bowness said there’s a reason why the performances have been so erratic.

“ This bubble living is not what you think it is,” he said. “Until you’re living it day-to-day, you don’t understand what everyone is going through.

“Did we have a messy start? Yeah. Did they kind of lose it a little bit? Yeah. You look around the league and that’s what’s happening, but a lot of it has to do with that. I’m just telling the people, this isn’t as easy as you think it is.”

Benn, for one, can officially relate.

“It’s hard being here,” Benn says. “There are a lot of us in the same boat. We miss our families. But we’re here for a reason and we have our rocks back home taking care of our kids.”

While dad tries to take care of business.

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