Glenwood’s Benson recalls winning gold at Deaf Hockey Championships
Following years of hard work on the ice and in the weight room, Glenwood Parks and Recreation worker and recently promoted rink manager Troy Benson claimed a gold medal at the Deaf Hockey World Championships in Amhurst, N.Y., April 29 with a 6-3 win over Canada in the final game.
Holding the 6-3 lead heading into the third period, Benson, a bundle of energy, couldn’t stop looking at the clock, willing it to tick faster so he could celebrate with his teammates.
“I couldn’t control myself emotionally,” Benson said during a recent interview at the Glenwood Ice Rink. “I remember being on the bench with about 10 seconds to go and we were all just standing waiting for time to run out to race onto the ice, throw our gloves in the air and celebrate. That moment is a feeling that I just can’t put into words. It still hasn’t really hit me that I have a gold medal from playing hockey.”
Born and raised near Detroit, Benson grew up around hockey, eventually playing at the varsity level in high school. During his time in high school, Benson was approached by a scout from the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, which in turned led to multiple tryouts with Team USA before catching on with the club in time for the World Championships in Finland, where the US came home with no medals to show. Fortunately for Team USA, they bounced back a few years later at the Deaflympics in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
In Russia, Benson was part of a bronze medal-winning club under Head Coach Jeff Sauer, but that performance left him — and the rest of the group — wanting more.
But disaster struck the program right before as Sauer, the longtime coach of the Wisconsin Badgers and the deaf Team USA program, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on Feb. 1, shaking up the foundation of the Team USA program.
That didn’t stop the Americans from rolling through the 2017 World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships, dropping just one game to Canada, a 5-2 loss, while topping Kazakhstan (32-0), the Czech Republic (17-0) and Finland (6-2), before redeeming their only loss to Canada by topping the boys from up north in the gold medal game.
“We dedicated the whole tournament to Coach Sauer,” Benson said. “It was a really tough tournament because he was our coach for years, and he was my first coach for Team USA. He was an amazing coach. When we found out he passed, it was very hard on all of us, but once we got into the tournament we wanted to play for him. When we played against Canada in the first game, we lost and we were worried we wouldn’t make the gold medal game, but one of Coach Sauer’s old quotes, ‘It doesn’t matter how many games you win, it’s about winning the right ones’ kept coming back to us. Eventually we won the right games before then winning the gold medal.”
As the clock ran out in the 6-3 win over Canada to give Team USA the gold, multiple emotions ran through Benson.
Winning the gold medal on the world stage in hockey is something very few people can put into words, let alone attest to, but on the other hand, knowing that they accomplished as a team what they set out to do for their late coach also swept them up in celebration.
Growing up as a deaf hockey player, Benson never even had the thought cross his mind that he’d ever represent his country on ice on the world stage, but thanks to AHIHA, Benson was able to done the stars and stripes for Team USA on the world stages multiple times over the last six to seven years.
That experience on the world stage and in the confines of Team USA training undoubtedly has made an impact right here in the valley, namely with the Glenwood Grizzlies’ youth hockey organization, which Benson spends a lot of time around.
“To have someone like Troy that is a local and has a presence at the rink is big for anybody in our community, let alone the young players within our organization,” Grizzly Director of Hockey T.K. Kwiatkowski said. “It doesn’t happen every day, especially here in the valley. He brings a lot of hockey experience and is a good role model for the younger kids in our program. He did a great job of not only representing Glenwood Springs, but representing Colorado as well on the world stage.”
Hoping to continue playing for Team USA over the next few years into the Deaflympics in Torino, Italy in 2019, Benson will continue to work hard on the ice and in the weight room until that time comes and goes.
After that, he wants to shut it down for good on the playing side, but based on his experience as a player, maybe coaching the young Grizzlies is in the cards.
“I’d love to do that at some point down the line when I’m done playing,” Benson said. “I’m going to keep working hard to stay with Team USA until Olympics, but after that I’m going to settle down, keep working here in Glenwood and hopefully T.K. could help me get a coaching job within the organization.”
Due to his experience on the ice and the relationships developed with players and administrators in the Grizzlies’ organization, that shouldn’t be a problem.