PRINCETON, N.J. – At the 7:30 mark of the third period, the referees halted play. Colton Phinney skated towards the bench, where Ryan Benitez grabbed his stick and rushed towards Princeton’s net.
“I was completely caught by surprise at that moment,” Benitez said. “Before I knew it, I was in there and I didn’t really have much time to think about it, which might have been a good thing at the end of the day.”
Coach Bob Prier said he decided on playing Benitez 10 seconds before he let his goalkeeper know.
He’s a kid that we’re always looking to reward, someone that comes to the rink with a really good attitude,” Prier said. “[He’s] a terrific teammate and he doesn’t have any easy job.
“There’s not much promise for him to start games or to play games or anything like that. [But] he hangs in there and he works hard. So it was nice to get him an opportunity to get him a few minutes in there.”
It was the first collegiate appearance for Benitez. And his family happened to be at Baker Rink on Friday night, where the team lost to Colgate 6-1.
“It made it even more special, the fact that they were there,” Benitez said.
The goalkeeper said his parents — who didn’t know Benitez would be playing either — arrived this weekend for Senior Night and to support the team.
“They were very excited first of all, that they had been there when it happened,” Benitez said. “I think they were very appreciative and they told me they thought I played well.
“We talked about some of my saves and it was just, they were very kind and they were very proud of me.”
Less than six seconds after entering the game, he made his first collegiate save.
“To be honest, there wasn’t really much going through my mind other than holy smokes, this is happening,” Benitez said.
“It was more get in there and react. I wanted to make sure I was warmed up, so that was maybe one of the things going through my mind, I knew I was going to be pretty cold coming in.”
The junior finished with 11 stops and allowed one goal in the 12:30 minutes he played.
“He was certainly competing and he fought to see pucks,” Prier said. “The only goal he let in was a breakaway. I thought he played well.”
Benitez also played through two penalty kills and spent most of his time fending off Colgate chances. The Raiders attempted 23 shots while Benitez was in net.
“I think I was really fortunate,” Benitez said. “That [when] I got in I was able to face some shots, be tested and engage in the game as opposed to Colgate having no shots on goal.
“It would’ve been cool to be in, but it wouldn’t have been as meaningful. So I’m thankful that they did get shots, it’s unfortunate that it had to come at the expense of the game going as it did.”
The only other playing time Benitez has seen this season came on Jan. 3 in a Great Northwest Showcase exhibition game. He made three saves in 17:04 minutes.
At one point on Friday, Benitez wound up on his back after making a sprawling save. A Colgate player who’d fallen near the crease during the scrum look at Benitez as play was going on and said, “Nice save.”
“It’s kind of funny to get compliments from the other team, especially in the middle of play,” Benitez said. “So that’s something that I’ll probably remember.”
Benitez said Friday night’s game taught him there’s room to improve.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good about how I’ve been playing recently, just in practice and things,” Benitez said. “But it’s definitely a different pace in the game than it is in practice.
“It just made it clear to me that as I continue to work to be an impact player at this level I need to make sure that I continue to [work hard] because I still have a long way to go.”
Note: After being published, this article was updated with quotes from Prier.