NEWPORT — Salve Regina University student-athlete Seth Benson endured a significant injury and a bout with cancer when he was 17 years old. Thanks in part to the work ethic instilled in him by his mother, he was able to overcome both.
The injury postponed his junior hockey career for a year, and the chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sidelined him for four months. Five years later, after his freshman year on the ice was canceled because of coronavirus, the 22-year old sophomore is the second-leading scorer for the Seahawks.
“Seth has had to fight through a lot of adversity for his age,” Salve Regina hockey coach Zech Klann said. “Some kids would have folded under that pressure. Not him. It shows with his maturity.
“The way he plays and practices for games, he’s got a different outlook on life. He never complains about anything. Every day is a day to get better. Every day is a blessing to him.”
Benson, who hails from Moorhead, Minnesota, about 200 miles from the Canadian border, was playing hockey for the Omaha Lancers in the top junior league in the U.S. when he suffered a major injury. At the time, Benson admitted he already was playing with a slight shoulder separation. That injury soon got worse.
“I got hit awkwardly and got a Stage 4 separation. I had major shoulder surgery,” Benson said. “I got a donated ligament and they basically tied it back together. I’ll always remember someone else gave that up to help me.
“And that’s when I realized that at any time (hockey) could get taken away from me at any moment. I was away from my family while I was playing junior hockey, so the good part was I got to come home and spend time with family and try to find some positives.”
Benson did what was needed to recover and was set to head back out and play junior hockey again. First, he needed to get a physical exam.
“I didn’t pass. I had some bumps on my neck, and (the doctor) ran his hand down on them,” Benson said. “He said they were kind of concerning and he wanted to take a look at them. I had multiple blood tests. I was told I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
Benson underwent chemotherapy for about three months.
“I’d have one session for eight hours on Wednesday and another one for 2½ hours,” Benson said. “Then I’d take a week off. It drains you out pretty bad.”
First it was the shoulder separation, then it was cancer. Benson leaned heavily on his mother’s credo throughout recuperation.
“My mom has a hard-work ethic and I learned from her,” Benson said. “You keep pushing, keep your head down and get back to work. I felt really good and then the cancer came. It was a different situation, more serious and harder mentally.
“But what I learned from my shoulder injury I was able to use again. Never say never. Just keep going. If you put in the work and stay positive, you’ll have success. I had cancer in August and I played my first game in December.”
Pandemic cancels season
Salve Regina personnel contacted Benson during the 2019-20 junior hockey season and he immediately was impressed.
“Junior hockey took me all over the place and I ended up in Buffalo for half a season,” Benson said. “That’s when Salve contacted me. I liked the coaches. I liked what they had to say and they can help me with hockey in the future. So I had no (campus) visit. I just showed up.”
Benson suffered another setback when he arrived for his first year on campus. Only this time it wasn't a personal setback. The pandemic forced the cancellation of all winter sports and all students returned home for virtual learning.
Finally back on the ice
Benson and all students returned to Salve Regina in the fall with COVID-19 still lingering. But in-person learning is in session, and the hockey season — despite no fans currently allowed at home games — is 16 games deep with nine remaining heading into this weekend.
Benson is a 6-foot-4, 212-pound forward. He is tied for the team lead in plus-minus with a plus-13, and he ranks second on the team in three categories: points (14), goals (7) and game-winning goals (2). He’s scored short-handed and on the power play.
“Seth brings size, speed and physicality,” Klann said. “He can shoot the puck. He’s got a very heavy shot. He plays the game hard and he brings intensity. But he plays the game the right way. As hard as he goes down the ice he comes back the same way.”
Benson was held scoreless the first three games of the season, but broke through for his first collegiate goal in the opening period of Salve’s win over Nichols on Nov. 13.
“It was great. My girlfriend flew in for that game, so at least I had someone close to me there to see it,” Benson said. “The goal was a big turning point for me. I started rolling after that.”
Five games later, Benson notched the team’s lone hat trick of the season and his was pure — three consecutive goals in the second period of the Seahawks' win over Wesleyan. Benson has found a pair of linemates in Mitch Walinski and Damon Zimmer.
“We put them together and, after watching them for just one period, we knew we had to leave it that way,” Klann said. “They have the willingness to share the puck, block a shot and take a hit on the wall in order to make a play.”
Seahawks in playoff hunt
Third-place Salve Regina is locked in a tight four-team race for the top spot in the Commonwealth Coast Conference standings. Just four points separate the top squad from the fourth-place team.
The top six earn playoff berths, and Benson likes his team’s chances, not only the rest of the regular season but when postseason begins. “We’ve been playing better and better as a team," he said. "Definitely I have very high hopes. I believe in the team and the staff. I think we can come out on top.”
As far as Klann is concerned, Benson already is on top.
“He came in and he’s just extremely motivated both on the ice and academically,” Klann said. “For him to continue to work the way he does, he really is a pleasure to coach.
"He wants to get better. He wants to get pushed. And his personality … he always has a smile on his face. He always asks you how you’re doing, do you need any help. He’s infectious to be around. I wish I had five more Seth Bensons.”
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Salve Regina men's hockey: Seth Benson has fought through adversity