In the spring of 2009, Jamie Benn played a vital role in the Kelowna Rockets’ run to their third Western Hockey League championship.
Nine seasons later, with the memories still vivid, the Victoria-born forward was back on the ice at Prospera Place this week for a pair of practises with his Dallas Stars.
“I was telling the guys, I think the last time I skated on this ice was in overtime (2009) when we won the WHL title,” said Benn, the captain of the Stars. “It was a great experience.”
Following Monday’s game in Vancouver, Benn and the NHL club made a two-day stopover in Kelowna, before heading to Winnipeg to play the Jets on Thursday night.
Now the captain of the Stars, Benn said he’ll always value his time spent in Kelowna with the Rockets’ organization.
“It’s definitely nice being back,” said Benn who scored 79 goals in 107 games over two seasons with Kelowna. “I was excited to come here when I talked about it with Hitch (coach Ken Hitchcock).
“This city and this team turned me into more of a man and a better hockey player,” added Benn. “Time has flown by, I remember living and playing here like it was yesterday. I have so many great memories here.”
As one of just 18 players depicted on the Rockets’ Wall of Recognition inside Prospera Place, Benn clearly left his mark on the organization—even though he remains humble about the recognition to this day.
“I don’t know how I got up there,” Benn joked with a smile. “I must have been nice to the people of this city and this team.”
Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, who knows Kelowna well, was complimentary of both the city and the hometown Rockets.
“This is a big city now, this is a growing city,” Hitchcock said. “It’s very vibrant. You have one of the best rinks in the league, one of the best franchises in the league, and the whole city itself feels like a major league city.”
Hitchcock said staying in a downtown hotel near the rink and having easy access to other amenities this week provided a relaxing and enjoyable environment for his players.
“I think there’s something said when you walk to the rink and you don’t have cars and busses, you walk to dinner, you walk to the rink, you walk to the hotel. I think there’s a lot to say for that, the players get to hang together.”
One player who didn’t expect to be involved in the Stars’ plans this week was former West Kelowna Warriors’ goaltender Tyler Briggs.
Due to an injury to one of their netminders, the NHL club called on Briggs to suit up for Tuesday’s practise, an experience the Kelowna resident won’t soon forget.
“What a cool experience for him,” Jamie Benn said of Briggs, who played for West Kelowna during the 2012-13 BCHL season. “I must be pretty nice when you’ve got (Jason) Spezza, (Alex) Radulov and (Tyler) Seguin coming down and shooting on you. He made some big saves, I think he robbed Spezza pretty bad out there, so we’ll give him a hard time about that.”
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