PRINCETON, N.J. – Two years ago, the playing situation was looking bleak for Ryan Benitez. A sophomore then, Benitez was the third-string goalkeeper.
“A couple years ago I was just really frustrated with hockey, and I was coming off the ice everyday feeling like I wasn’t as good as [Sean] Bonar or [Mike Condon],” Benitez said.
“I’m kind of a religious guy, so I felt like God was like, you should just focus on the effort that you put in. Since then, I just try to measure my success based on my effort. That way it’s in my control every day during practice, so that’s probably what [coach] saw.”
Benitez played 40 minutes in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Russian Red Stars.
“It felt good. It was really exciting, I was pretty anxious to get out there,” Benitez said. “I was a little bit nervous for sure because it had been many years since I’d played a game. But it was cool, and once you get out there and the game starts it’s just like what we know how to do. It wasn’t too bad once the game started.”
Benitez had only played in one game during his collegiate career, on Feb. 21, 2014 against Colgate. Benitez played 12:30 minutes in relief, making 11 saves on 12 shots on the loss.
On Saturday, he made 14 stops on Saturday, including eight in the second period.
“He’s a hard worker, [he] competes hard and he stopped the puck,” Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said. “If he wasn’t doing that, he wouldn’t have started.”
Fogarty dressed Benitez as the backup against Minnesota State in December, persuaded by Benitez’ hard work in practice. The Tiger coach wanted to play Benitez that weekend, but the cancelled game changed his plans.
This weekend, Fogarty returned to those plans.
“Earlier in the week, I think maybe Monday or Tuesday, Ron just made an announcement to the team,” Benitez said.
“He said, ‘We’re going back to our plan from Minnesota, Benny’s going to start.’ It’s been fun this week to prepare and to know that I’m playing.”
After finding out he would start, Benitez tweaked his preparation in practice.
“I tried to get a few more shots in practice and practice a little more deliberately,” Benitez said. “[I] made sure I was trying to maintain good habits and stuff for the game.”
For Benitez, the best part was the team’s support.
“All the guys [were] excited for me before the game, encouraging me out there, pumped up for me, talking about me getting in there for the first time,” Benitez said. “It really meant a lot that they cared so much.”