January 24, 2018

State champ returns to take over alma mater

First year head coach J.P. Benoit speaks to hockey hopefuls on the fnal day of try-outs.

6 years after graduating, Benoit starts as Redhawks hockey coach

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

It is welcome home week for Champlain Valley Union High School graduate J.P. Benoit.

A two-time state champion with the Redhawks boys hockey team, Benoit has returned for his first season as head coach of his alma mater, which begins Friday when CVU takes on Lower Canada at 7:40 p.m. at Cairns Arena.

“It’s good to be home,” Benoit said. “I am beyond excited. I’ll be wishing I was playing.”

The 25-year-old takes over for Mike Murray, who spent seven seasons as the CVU hockey coach, winning two state titles and appearing in three championship games. They are big shoes to fill for the first-year coach.

“I had coach Murray my senior year, and he held us accountable,” Benoit said. “I learned a lot from Murray … just an understanding that you should love the kids like you love the program.”

Benoit learned about the coaching vacancy from his former coach Doug Hopper, who told him to take a shot at the job. The 2011 high school graduate, who has been on the Redhawks football coaching staff, was excited at the opportunity to return to the ice.

“I knew I wanted to come back (to hockey),” Benoit said. “He told me ‘I think you would be awesome at the job, call the athletic director.’ I’m glad I did.”

With Benoit taking over the top job and bringing along assistants Erich Schwer, Tom Forgione and Jed Dousevicz, the CVU coaching staff is one of the youngest in the state, bringing a new energy but the same high expectations for the program.

“I have a staff that is really experienced in the hockey world,” Benoit said. “It will definitely be interesting.”

Benoit, who won titles in 2009 and 2011, has high hopes for his first year behind the bench. He wants to see his team at Gutterson Fieldhouse playing for a state championship at the end of the season.

“I want to give them an experience that, 10 years from now, they can look back on and be proud of,” Benoit said. “I want us to get to Gutterson. Every year I coach here, that will always be the goal.

“I want a banner,” he added, “not for me, but something that every time (the players) walk into the rink, they will look at it and say ‘that was me.’”

Benoit returns to a CVU program coming off another Division I semifinal appearance, but with a mix of experience and youth on the ice.

“I have never been around a group of kids that wants to work more,” Benoit said. “I’ve got a lot of veteran defensemen, some veteran scoring … I’ve got kind of a mixed bag. But every single one of them is hungry.”

Benoit will rely on seniors Jennings Lobel and Raf Ribeiro, who will serve as team captains, to provide leadership. He will also look for Ribeiro to play significant minutes on defense and for Lobel to lead on offense.

“They are two kids who stood head and shoulders above everyone else,” Benoit said. “We let the kids vote, and the coaches voted and everyone said they are our guys.”

Benoit knows the Redhawks have very few weaknesses. They may not have a standout player, but they are solid up and down the lineup.

In addition, there will be a trio of goaltenders vying for the starting position.

“We’ve have a lot of kids that have potential to open it up at any time,” Benoit said. “We are not going to lean on one guy, we are going to need everybody.”

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