Comets Tales: Jim Benning Visits The AUD

by Don Laible

Dec 15, 2014

17 rows up in section 216 of The AUD, seated in a private suite, Vancouver Canucks’ general manager, Jim Benning, had a clear view of his organization’s future this past Wednesday and Friday.

About two and a half hours after the Utica Comets and Rochester Americans North Division contest wrapped up, Benning emerged from the Travis Green’s office and introductions were made between he and members of the local media.

“This was my first game seeing them (Comets) play this year,” says Benning, after the 3-1 Utica victory. “I was very impressed with them. I saw hard working, two-way players working hard to make plays, and make a difference.”

Benning, just as Canucks’ President of Hockey Operations Trevor Linden came to town last month to check in on the team’s AHL investment, is pleased with the overall development program that is on-going at The AUD. Labeling the American Hockey League as a “tough league” that he once played (Newmarket Saints 1986-87) in, Benning has a firm grasp on what the requirements are to succeed on this level.

“You need extra bodies. There are a lot of injuries here (AHL),” Benning said.

According to the Canucks’ General Manager, the organization has 48 players under contract, including some in the ECHL. During Benning’s meet and greet with the Utica media, he pointed to Wednesday’s performance of Kane Lafranchise as an example of having people to step up when needed, and positive results follow. Lafranchise, a defenseman who has experienced the AHL-ECHL shuttle this season, assisted on Bobby Sanquinetti’s first period goal and added a goal of his own, on Wednesday night.

What a difference a season has made for the Vancouver hockey family. The Canucks finished the 2013-14 season fifth in the Pacific Division with 83 points. This season, 30 games in, the Canucks are in second place with 38 points. For Utica, 39 points have been collected through 27 games, as the club sits atop the Western Conference.

“One thing we (Canucks) talked about this summer was adding depth to the organization. And that (is something) we did,”said Benning, who was hired for his current position on May 23,2014. “We brought in young kids, and some veterans to teach the young kids how to win. Injuries up top (Vancouver), create opportunities here (Utica) for guys to help us win up there.”

Before finishing up taking questions and shaking hands with each reporter standing before him, which demonstrated a genuine appreciation for Comets hockey, Benning fielded questions on Tom Sestito’s first appearance for Utica this season. Earlier in the week leading up to Utica hosting the Amerks, Sestito, originally from Rome(NY), 16 miles to the west of Utica, was assigned for AHL play as part of a conditioning program.

“I thought he played excellent tonight,” Benning declared of Sestito’s play. “He hasn’t played in six weeks. Tommy is working hard to get in shape. That toe-drag move he made was a good shot.”

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