Bernie Bennett has been working hard ever since he won the chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens' alumni team in an upcoming charity game in Yellowknife.
He’s set up a high-end hockey training facility in his garage, goes to four or five public skates a week, and watches as many ‘A’ division recreational games as he can. All in all, he’s putting in 15 to 20 hours a week in training to play with some of his hockey heroes.
What’s the toughest part?
“For me, having never skated before,” Bennett says. “I think if I’d already known how to skate the rest would have come relatively easy, with some work, but not having skated and being 52, it’s not as easy to learn as when you start at five or six like most of these guys.”
Bennett isn’t new to sports. A special room in his house has medals and trophies all over the place, but not one of them is for hockey.
“I have hit the ice quite a bit but I’m used to that. I’m not really afraid of it.”
Bennett says he grew up in communities that were too small for organized hockey. By the time his family moved to Yellowknife, he was already in Grade 5 and all the other kids were strong on the ice.
“I think I was worried about looking a little bit stupid and stuff trying to learn at that age, so I just gravitated towards other sports,” Bennett says. “Finally I got to the age now where I decided I really wanna try it. I don’t really care about looking stupid anymore.”
The game is just eight weeks away. Bennett will be skating with luminaries like Larry Robinson and Steve Shutt. Bennett's childhood hero, Guy Lafleur, will be coaching the team.
Do they know he’d never skated before this summer?
“No. I imagine that’s gonna be quite the surprise,” Bennett says. “They’ve basically promised that all of their guests will score a goal so I’ll tell them that they’re gonna have to work a little bit extra hard to make sure that I fulfill that promise.”
'My shooting was far better than my other skills'
Bennett plans to play left wing for the team.
“People started to tell me that my shooting was far better than my other skills… even if I would fall down due to lack of balance, I still would get nice shots off.”
With just eight weeks to go before the game, Bennett won’t be wasting any time. He’ll be keeping up his training regime right through the holidays.
“I make sure I always bring out a friend who… well, he’s got lots of free time because he’s retired.”
The charity game between the Habs alumni team and a police and firefighters' team takes place Jan. 25, at the Yellowknife Multiplex.
“You never know how things are gonna turn out." Bennett says. "If I were to guess right now I could easily see myself scoring three goals.”