FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Before the 2018-19 season started, Sacred Heart freshman goaltender Josh Benson knew he would have to compete for playing time in goal for the Pioneers.
Not for the starting job, mind you – senior goaltender Brett Magnus had 36 wins coming into the season, and had been the Pioneers’ number-one goalie since his freshman season. The most likely competition for the former North Iowa Bull was with Drennen Atherton – a fellow freshman from the USPHL’s Northern Cyclones – for the chance to spend his first season as Magnus’s understudy.
Instead, Benson has landed himself lots of ice time and is likely to see more as Sacred Heart opens Atlantic Hockey tournament play on Wednesday against RIT. The Pioneers will host a best-of-three series this week against the Tigers, and would advance to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals in Buffalo next week with a series win.
The Stillwater, Minnesota native has a 12-8-2 record heading into the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals, with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage. He’s hitting his stride at exactly the right time too – Benson won six of his seven decisions in February, allowing 2.14 goals a game over the last six weeks.
The Stillwater High School alumnus has a history of raising the bar at each and every stop – as a high school netminder, he led the Ponies to two Minnesota state tournaments. Then, after winning all seven decisions in his brief time with the Bulls in 2016-17, he earned a call-up to the North American Hockey League’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The run continued in the NAHL – after 11 straight losses and a winless November, Fairbanks finished second in the Midwest Division standings. Thanks in part to him and Holy Cross commit Erik Gordon, the ’16-’17 Ice Dogs made a run to the Midwest Division finals. Last year, Trevor Stewart’s team took the next step, running away with the league’s regular-season title and making a run to the Robertson Cup semifinals.
Now, Sacred Heart is just two wins away from its first Atlantic Hockey semifinal appearance since 2010, and four wins from its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Pioneers are the fourth seed in the Atlantic Hockey tournament, behind American International College, Bentley and Air Force. Bentley is also playing for its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
Seven former North Iowa Bulls have made it to the Division I ranks, with Benson and Kohei Sato (New Hampshire) currently active on D-I rosters. More than 100 players in North Iowa’s eight-year history have gone on to play college hockey, with more than 70 making their commitments while on the Bulls’ roster.
The North Iowa Bulls congratulate Josh Benson on his success this freshman season, and wish him continued success at Sacred Heart University.
(photo credit: Steve McLaughin, Sacred Heart athletics)