Since leaving home for college three years ago, former Estevan Bruin Payden Benning has not only progressed immensely as a hockey player, he has also grown as a person.
"I've matured a lot," Benning told The Mercury. "In junior hockey I was still living with my parents, and coming down here and having to do everything on my own, while playing hockey I've learned how to prioritize things better."
Benning (22) is now in his third season of NCAA Division III hockey with the Curry Colonels in Milton, Massachusetts. With 19 goals and 16 assists in 27 games, Benning led the Colonels in scoring last season to help them win the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) championship.
With the conference championship, the Colonels booked a ticket to the NCAA Division 3 tournament. They eventually lost out to Elmira College, but learned a lot as a team in the process.
"We went through some adversity last year and I think that helped," Benning said. "We ended up winning the conference, and the Curry team hadn't won it for five years. We got to nationals, which helped us grow as a team, and we only lost four of those guys from last year so we have a really good squad this year."
Now a junior on the squad, Benning has been named Curry's captain, something he believes has helped him mature.
"It was a great honour," Benning said. "We did a team vote and the coach said I got a vote from every single guy so he thought it was a good idea to give me the 'C'. I had to make some adjustments, especially only being a junior this year. You've got to take care of the guys and make sure everybody is where they're supposed to be at certain times."
With 10 other juniors on the club, Benning gets a lot of help in the leadership department, and he says they are a close-knit group because they have been together since joining the team as freshmen two and a half years ago.
"We only have two seniors this year too, so we're a pretty young team," said Benning. "We have a lot of time to develop as a team. After last year's win and getting a taste of nationals, we have a lot to strive for and we have a lot of time to work on things - it's going to be an exciting year."
Not only is Benning excelling on the ice, he was also named to the ECAC Northeast All-Academic squad last year. He credits his success in school to the maturation process he was forced to take on after leaving home.
"In high school I kind of slacked off a little bit. It's not that I had bad grades, but they weren't as good as they could have been, and I knew that when I came down here with my parents helping me pay to go to school, I might as well get good grades," said Benning with a laugh.
In the summers, Benning makes his way back to Estevan to work for his family-owned L&C trucking business. He got his truck-driving licence three years ago and works all summer to make some money to support himself as much as possible while going to school.
As far as what his plans are after college, Benning remains undecided.
"I've thought about the whole Europe idea and going over there to play hockey, and one of my professors has been trying to talk me into going to law school, and then there's always the chance of staying down here and finding a profession" he said.
While he may not know what it is he wants to do with the rest of his life, one thing is certain; whatever it is, he'll give it all he's got.