JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If Jacob Benson keeps a travel log, here is an entry he won't soon forget.

Benson, who recently completed his eligibility with the St. Cloud State men's hockey team, made his professional hockey debut Tuesday, April 2, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. He played center and had three shots on goal and a minor penalty in a 2-0 loss for the Jacksonville Icemen in an ECHL game.

The ECHL is the hockey equivalent of Class AA minor league baseball and Jacksonville is affiliated with the NHL's Winnipeg Jets.

Benson's signing with Jacksonville became official Tuesday afternoon. Getting to Orlando was a long trip from his apartment in St. Cloud, Minn.

"I ubered from St. Cloud at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning to the (Twin) Cities and flew out at 7 (a.m.)," Benson said. "Then I played last night in Orlando.

"It was good, even though our team lost. It was a cool experience, playing in my first professional game. I was a little nervous, but there are good guys here and they've been great to me so far. It sucks that we lost, but I just took everything in."

He's also taking in the good weather in Florida. The high in St. Cloud on Wednesday was supposed to reach the mid-40s. Benson said it was 70 degrees when he was being interviewed at noon in Jacksonville.

"It's very nice," he said. "There's a couple of the guys sitting by the pool right now. I think I'm going to get a quick workout in and then get some schoolwork in."

St. Cloud State's Jacob Benson (17) and Kevin Fitzgerald try to get control of the puck in front of North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson during the first game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Friday, March 16, 2018, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Rink Live
St. Cloud State's Jacob Benson (17) and Kevin Fitzgerald try to get control of the puck in front of North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson during the first game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Friday, March 16, 2018, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Rink Live

Old teammates

Benson, 23, played four seasons for the Huskies and was an alternate captain for the NCHC regular season champions. He had four goals, seven points and 12 penalty minutes and was a minus-3 in 36 games for St. Cloud State this season.

In his college career, he had 27 goals and 56 points in 138 games. Benson joins a Jacksonville team that has qualified for the playoffs and has two games left in the regular season. The Icemen (36-30-2-2) play host to the Florida Everblades (48-16-5-1) on Saturday, which will bring Benson a reunion with former Huskies teammate Blake Winiecki.

Winiecki, who is in his first full season in the ECHL, is having a good season for Florida. Winiecki has 24 goals, 33 assists, 38 penalty minutes and is seventh in the league in plus/minus (plus-22). Benson said he plans on attending Winiecki's wedding this summer.

"We've texted now and then and I talked to Blake and (former SCSU teammate) Judd (Peterson) and they've helped me," Benson said. Peterson is playing for the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL. "It's a little different game, more controlled than college.

"It was really tough for me to take everything in because I was so nervous. I just decided to go out and see what happens. It went pretty well."

Benson helped Grand Forks Red River win the North Dakota state boys high school hockey title in 2013 when he was fourth in the state in points. He played junior hockey the next two seasons for the Dubuque Fighting Saints before joining St. Cloud State.

Benson said he remains on schedule to graduate this spring with a degree in finance from St. Cloud State. He also admits he is still struggling to come to grips with his team's upset loss to American International College on Friday in Fargo, N.D.

"That game on Friday, it's still hard to believe it happened," he said. "In those (NCAA) tournaments, anything can happen and we were on the wrong end three times now. It's just crazy. The whole game, I didn't feel like we were going to lose and there was a different attitude than the past years.

"With four seconds left, it started sinking in that this might happen. It's kind of sad."

 

Mick Hatten can be reached at mhatten@forumcomm.com. Follow @MickHatten on Twitter, Instagram

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