NEWPORT — Salve Regina University student-athlete Seth Benson suffered a serious injury and battle with cancer at age 17. Thanks in part to the work ethic instilled in him by his mother, he was able to overcome both.
The injury set back his junior hockey career by a year, and chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sidelined him for four months. Five years later, after his first year on the ice was canceled due to coronavirus, the 22-year-old second is the Seahawks’ second leading scorer.
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“Seth had to fight a lot of adversity for his age,” said Salve Regina hockey coach Zech Klann. “Some children would have folded under this pressure. Not him. It shows with his maturity.
“The way he plays and trains for games, he has a different outlook on life. He never complains about anything. Every day is a day to get better. Every day is a blessing for him.
Benson, a native of Moorhead, Minnesota, about 200 miles from the Canadian border, was playing hockey for the Omaha Lancers in the top junior league in the United States when he suffered a serious injury. At the time, Benson admitted that he was already playing with a slight shoulder separation. This injury quickly worsened.
“I got hit awkwardly and got a stage 4 separation. I had major shoulder surgery,” Benson said. “I received a donated ligament and they basically reattached it. I will always remember that someone else gave that up to help me.
“And that’s when I realized anytime (hockey) could be taken away from me at any time. I was away from my family while I was playing junior hockey, so the good part was I was able to come home and hang out with my family and try to find some positives.
Benson did what it took to recover and was ready to go back to playing junior hockey. First, he had to undergo a physical examination.
” I did not succeed. I had bumps on my neck and (the doctor) ran his hand over them,” Benson said. “He said they were pretty concerning and wanted to take a look. I had several blood tests. I was told I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Benson underwent chemotherapy for about three months.
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“I would have an eight hour session on Wednesday and another 2 1/2 hours,” Benson said. “Then I would take a week off. It wears you down pretty badly.
First it was the shoulder separation, then it was the cancer. Benson relied heavily on his mother’s creed throughout his recovery.
“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 more difficult mentally.
“But what I learned from my shoulder injury I was able to use again. Never say never. Just keep doing it. If you put in the work and stay positive, you’ll have to I had cancer in August and played my first game in December.
The pandemic cancels the season
Salve Regina staff reached out to Benson during the 2019-20 junior hockey season and he was immediately impressed.
“Junior hockey took me everywhere and I ended up in Buffalo for half a season,” Benson said. “It was then that 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 did not have a visit (of the campus). I just introduced myself.
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Benson suffered another setback when he arrived for his freshman year on campus. Except this time it wasn’t a personal setback. The pandemic has forced the cancellation of all winter sports and all students have returned home for virtual learning.
Finally back on the ice
Benson and all of the students returned to Salve Regina in the fall with COVID-19 still present. But in-person learning is ongoing, and the hockey season — although no fans are currently allowed at home games — is 16 games with nine remaining until this weekend.
Benson is a 6-foot-4, 212-pound forward. He’s tied for the team lead in plus-minus with a plus-13, and he’s second on the team in three categories: points (14), goals (7) and game-winning goals (2). He scored on the shorthanded and on the power play.
“Seth brings size, speed and physicality,” Klann said. “He can throw the puck. He has a very heavy shot. He plays the tough game 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 in the first three games of the season, but broke through for his first collegiate goal in the first period of Salve’s win over Nichols on Nov. 13.
“It was great. My girlfriend flew in for this 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 riding after that.
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Five games later, Benson scored the team’s only hat-trick of the season and his was pure – three straight second-period goals in the Seahawks’ win over Wesleyan. Benson 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 at that,” Klann said. “They have the will to split the puck, block a shot and take a hit on the wall in order to make a play.”
The Seahawks in the hunt for the playoffs
Third-placed Salve Regina is engaged in a close four-team race for the top spot in the Commonwealth Coast Conference standings. Only four points separate the first team from fourth place.
The top six earn playoff berths, and Benson likes his team’s chances, not just the rest of the regular season, but early in the playoffs. “We are playing better and better as a team,” he said. “Certainly, I have very high hopes. I believe in the team and the coaching staff. I think we can come out on top.
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As far as Klann goes, Benson is already on top.
“He’s arrived and he’s just extremely motivated, both on the ice and academically,” Klann said. “For him to continue to work as he does, it’s really a pleasure to train him.
“He wants to improve. He wants to be pushed. And his personality…he always has a smile on his face. He always asks you how you are, do you need any help. He’s contagious. I wish I had five other Seth Bensons.