Diana Bennett began playing hockey when she was three or four years old, just like her old brother Mac and younger sister Carly did.
Yet, the Boston University women’s ice hockey defenseman can’t quite recall the first time her dad, Jimmy, laced up her skates or she stumbled on the ice rinks of Rhode Island, her home state.
“I honestly don’t even remember making a decision to play because I started so young, but I always loved it,” Diana recalled. “My family loves it so much that it makes you love it also. It was never like I was forced into playing or anything, it’s just what we did for fun.”
Diana’s parents drove her and her siblings to rinks around New England in a Winnebago, passing time between games and practices inside the RV. To this day, the slamming of pucks against the boards and hum of a Zamboni is music to Diana’s ears.
In many ways, hockey-crazed families can relate to the quirks of Diana’s childhood, but with the Bennett family, things are a little different. Hockey is in their blood – it’s just who they are.[vc_separator color=”black” border_width=”3″ el_width=”50″]
The lineage starts with Diana’s grandfather, Harvey, who hails from Saskatchewan, Canada. As a goaltender, he played over 600 combined games for the Boston Bruins and the now-defunct Providence Reds. Regarded by many as the godfather of hockey in Rhode Island, five of Harvey’s kids played professionally as well.
Uncle Johnny was a winger for the Philadelphia Blazers of the World Hockey Association. Uncle Curt was a standout center for the St. Louis Blues, the New York Rangers and the Atlanta Flames. Uncle Harvey most notably was a center for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Minnesota North Stars and the Blues.
Uncle Billy played wing for the Rochester Americans, the Bruins and the Hartford Whalers, among other teams. And last but not least, Jimmy himself was drafted by the Atlanta Flames and suited up in the International Hockey League and Central Hockey League.
Simply, the game is in Diana’s DNA.
“It was really nice having my dad and all my uncles around to teach me things,” Diana said. “I just had so much respect for them. It was really easy to listen to them and what they would say to make me better.
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[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]She added, “All of my uncles are great, but my Uncle Billy owned a hockey shop. He’s definitely the one uncle who impacted me the most because he was always at the rink and he loves hockey more than anyone who I’ve ever met. He just lives and breathes it, so he was great to have growing up.”
The buck doesn’t stop there, though. Mac, also a defenseman, played for four years at the University of Michigan and got drafted in 2009 by the Montreal Canadiens.
He’s with their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, looking to eventually play alongside P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov – two all-star blueliners. While focused on his own career, Mac also left a lasting impression on Diana’s development.
“I honestly don’t think I would have ever played college hockey without him,” Diana said. “We used to skate during winter breaks when he was in college, and he would always give me tips. If we were shooting, he would give me drills to make my shot better or make my hands better.
She added, “He has a really good way of showing you what to do. It doesn’t make me mad when he’s trying to help.”
Seven role models young and old, all of whom molded Diana’s tenacious personality.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black” border_width=”3″ el_width=”50″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Jimmy insists that Diana is the most passionate about hockey out of all his kids. After all, she was always the last one off the ice, always looking to play with the boys and played every chance she got during the summer.
That sort of passion didn’t just come out of nowhere, though. Instead, it started at a young age when Diana wanted to emulate her big brother. Street hockey was the game, and Diana wasn’t content with watching from the curb.
“I would have my entire team over and I was 10 years old, so Diana was 8 years old,” Mac recalled. “She was smaller and not as skilled as we were, but the way that she kept up, and everyone hated playing against her because of this, is she would slash the hell out of you. She’d slash you, she’d hook you, she’d just do anything to get you off your game.”
In the eyes of Mac’s friends, Diana was the annoying little sister, but he didn’t care. She, too, was a Bennett and Bennetts are at home when the puck drops.
There were also family pond hockey games where cousins, uncles and siblings all shared a common love. It didn’t matter if you played in the NHL or were just starting out, passion ran strong through each and every person.
So, when Diana’s family moved to Warwick, Rhode Island, the home’s backyard tennis courts presented an all-too-logical opportunity. Jimmy, with the help of a nearby pool company, transformed them into a backyard rink. Naturally, this became the gathering place for friends and family, even if it meant Jimmy was flooding the surface with a garden hose at 4:30 a.m.
Maintaining the backyard rink was hard at times, but it allowed Diana to live out her passion.
“At 5:30 in the morning I hear this knocking, knocking, skating and I look out there and there’s Diana with her helmet, stick and skates,” Jimmy said. “She’s shooting pucks with the lights on, and she must have been 11 or 12 years old doing it before she went to school. She loved it more than anybody.”
As a Bennett, Diana probably didn’t need much help discovering her destiny. But, it also didn’t hurt to have opportunities aplenty just outside the door.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black” border_width=”3″ el_width=”50″][vc_column_text]Fast forward and Diana is living proof that the Bennett family legacy extends beyond the namesake. Of all things, a simple game provided her with lifelong friends and lessons on and off the ice.
“I think hockey has really showed her what it means to work, what it means to get pushed around and get back up,” Mac said. “She loves her teammates, she loves being a part of a team and she works every day.
He added, “I think the one thing Diana will get out of this whole experience is the fact that she can do anything she puts her mind to, she just has to put the work in. That’s all because of hockey and I think that’s a pretty cool thing.”
As a smaller defenseman, Diana has always had to put extra time in the weight room or on the ice, but she’s okay with that. The hours added up and let her become a part of BU coach Brian Durocher’s team – a place where she’s won three Hockey East Tournaments and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as many times.
Yes, she’s a Bennett and hockey defines her in many ways, but she carved out this niche all by herself.
“I’m really proud to come from my family and it means a lot since hockey has brought me so much as a person,” Diana said. “I’ll definitely look back and realize how it’s led to all of this.”
Diana will graduate in May, and she’s come to terms with the fact she likely won’t make a career out of the sport. But that in no way means it will disappear from her life.
“For her, it’s probably never going to close,” Jimmy said. “She’ll find a way to play in a men’s league if she has to and I think she’d make a very good coach. It’s not like she’s the most talented, but she’s one of the hardest workers.”
Diana already knows her kids will play hockey, too, because, well, that’s just what Bennetts do.