Brandon Benedict grew up in Avondale, where his love for the game of hockey began.
Playing ball hockey on the streets and frozen ponds, Benedict would later play the game for King’s-Edgehill School before moving on to the Halifax Mooseheads.
He would go on to play for five seasons from 1998-2003. He graduated as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 303 points.
Benedict continued his career for four seasons at Acadia University followed by a season and a half in the ECHL and CHL, before travelling overseas to play in Denmark and nine seasons with the British Elite League, the last two as a player/assistant coach with the Belfast Giants.
He hung up his skates in 2018 and took over coaching at Newbridge Academy’s major bantam boys’ program.
But now, he’s heading back home with his young family after taking on the coaching and general manager role with the Valley Wildcats Junior A team in the Maritime Hockey League.
Benedict said the opportunity ticked every box he wanted.
“This is a dream job, coaching a team, building a team, this is exactly my passion,” Benedict said from Belfast, Northern Ireland. “I knew when I stepped away as a player that this is exactly the type of thing I wanted to do.”
“And now it’s sitting on my lap in my backyard, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity,” he added.
Benedict said he’s proud of his roots and thrilled to be heading back to the Valley.
“You always have to have pride of where you’re from, and there is some debate when you’re with players from different parts of North America and Europe about where exactly hockey started, but I’m a strong advocate for Windsor, Nova Scotia as the birthplace of hockey,” he said.
“I think you have to surround yourself with good people and positive environments and that’ll certainly help. Being from Hants County, I have strong ties to that area. I went to Acadia as well, so there’s a strong tie as well. I love that part of Nova Scotia.”
NO MORE DISTANCE
While Benedict was coaching at Newbridge Academy in Dartmouth, his wife and two young kids, were living in Belfast, which wasn’t easy for them.
This time around the whole family is moving to Nova Scotia.
“On a personal level, it was a struggle. I have a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl and my wife was looking after them, and being away from them for two to three months at a time was tough. I was able to make it back for Christmas, but I won’t sit here and say it was easy - it wasn’t,” he said.
“From a personal standpoint, I think having us all together will make this adjustment a lot easier.”
Benedict is excited about his new role as both the coach and general manager of the Valley Wildcats.
“It’s about wanting to generate that interest and passion for hockey to the region. I think there’s a massive potential for that organization,” he said.
From a coaching perspective, he’s focusing on building a positive relationship with the players.
“Identifying their particular roles and what they’ll bring to the team is crucial to putting the puzzle together,” he said. “There’s so many aspects that goes into this, but I want players that show a genuine passion for the game.”
BUILDING THE FRANCHISE
He’ll also be the general manager of the team, so he’s also focusing on building the team’s brand and fanbase.
“It was clear that coach and GM would be a dual role, and I think both aspects are equally important,” he said. “Right away it’ll be important to build relationships and partnerships within the community in terms of sponsorship. I have to sit down and have a good look at the revenue stream and what we’re generating.”
Benedict said that his experience in Belfast showed him how important the game-night atmosphere is for the team.
“What the fans want to see is players who genuinely care, and win or lose, that’s the only way it’s going to work,” he said.
Wildcats owner Graham Baxter says Benedict has all the attributes needed to turn around the club’s fortunes.
“Brandon had an exemplary playing career and has gained valuable coaching experience over the past three seasons,” said Baxter. “He was a tenacious player with a very strong work ethic and he’ll bring those attributes to our organization. Valley fans will easily identify with a local hockey product like Brandon, who played at King’s-Edgehill and Acadia and plans to make the Valley his permanent home once again.”
With Benedict taking over as general manager as well, Baxter also announced that Nick Greenough will stay on with the organization as a senior advisor.
“Nick has a young family and a full-time career outside of hockey, so he doesn’t have the time to be involved with the organization on a daily basis. However, his knowledge of the game and the league is invaluable, and we’re pleased he’ll remain with the Wildcats organization.”