When the Pittsburgh Penguins called up 21-year old forward Beau Bennett on Feb. 14, it was too short notice for his family to travel to Winnipeg, a place they know well. Bennett's grandma and aunt were born there, and they introduced hockey to the family while he was growing up in California.
While Bennett didn't score in his NHL debut, he played 11:37 in the Penguins' 3-1 win, and afterward his phone was pretty busy with congratulatory voicemails and texts. "I live in Canada, so my phone bill is probably going to be not happy with that," Bennett joked.
Pittsburgh's first round pick in 2010 made history. At No. 20 overall, Bennett became the highest drafted California-born-and-trained player ever in the NHL. After two years at the University of Denver, the Penguins signed Bennett and he started the 2012-13 season with their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. His 25 points in 35 games earned him the call-up in mid-February and he hasn't looked back.
We spoke with Bennett after the Penguins' morning skate on Friday. Enjoy.
Q. What's been your biggest challenge getting acclimated to the NHL level?
BENNETT: The first five or so games I was nervous to do anything out of the ordinary. I was just trying to stay the course and be responsible. Going forward I think I've gotten a little more confidence with the puck on my stick and trying to make plays, and still trying to maintain that responsibility in my own zone.
What helped you settle down?
The experience playing. The first couple games you get some jitters. You're nervous to make a mistake. But the more you play, the more time you know you have. the more you get accustomed to where guys are going to be and all the systems. It's been a good transition and hopefully it gets even better going forward.
Growing up in California in the 1990s, how big of an impact did Wayne Gretzky have on your interest in hockey?
I didn't really watch all that much ice hockey until the late '90s. I got into roller hockey pretty early, but I think he just made it the cool thing to do. All of us -- me and my group of friends -- we got the roller hockey going down at the local park and my dad got into it. He never really played growing up, but he coached us all the way up. Then I made the switch to ice around 2000.
What kind of skills have you taken from roller hockey and brought to the ice?
It helps a little with your hands because the puck's lighter and you've got to soften up your hands a little bit to be able to handle it. Other than that, being able to see plays before they happen, because with 4-on-4, no hitting, it's a lot of area passes and trying to get guys on odd-man rushes.
Did you watch Pro Beach Hockey growing up?
I know a couple of guys that played in it and I watched a little bit, but roller hockey is definitely a different animal than that. It's actually pretty fact for the game it is. There's a lot more puck possession. I try to play as much as I can; not competitively anymore, I don't want to risk anything.
As one of a few rookies on the team, have there been any dinner bills to cover or pranks pulled on you?
Last night I went back into my room after dinner and everything in my room was pushed up against the wall. Everything in the entire room was against the wall.
They didn't put it out into the hallway like on "24/7"?
No, some of the stuff was really heavy. That was definitely a two-man job. I'll have to figure out who did it. Probably I won't do anything to them, but at least I'll know who did it.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy