LEWISTON, N.Y. — The plot line of Sean Bentivoglio’s career at Niagara reads like a page-turner — shift after shift, game after game, season after season, fans of the Purple Eagles are left wanting to see more of this dynamic forward.
In fact, it was that way from the very beginning. At a mere 17 years old, Bentivoglio chose Niagara after fielding interest from some ECACHL schools that wanted him to play another year of junior hockey. Niagara’s close proximity to his parents home in Stoney Creek, Ont., cinched the deal.
“He was one of those rare players,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder recalled of Bentivoglio’s recruitment, “that you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. His first three steps are so explosive. And with each season, he has added another level to his game. You don’t always see players progress like that. He is very proud of his decision to come to Niagara, and in the end, he will go down as being one of the most important players in our program’s history.”
But perhaps the most exciting aspect of Bentivoglio’s play this season has been the growing consensus that he has many more chapters to write in a hockey career that one day may climax in an appointment with the NHL.
“Now that’s something I definitely don’t want to comment on,” Bentivoglio remarked, flustered at the very suggestion that his talents could lead him to the game’s highest stage. “You don’t see players coming out of the CHA and go directly to the NHL. If anything, I’ll start at the bottom again (after graduation) and hopefully work my way up.”
Bentivoglio, by nature, is reserved. He is the captain of the Purple Eagles, a role he inherited from Jason Williamson, who was vocal and commanding in the position.
But Bentivoglio has embraced his leadership role by accentuating a different methodology.
“I try and lead by example,” Bentivoglio said. “We have a relatively young team, but we are very close. I let my play do the talking. Our goal is to get back to the NCAAs, which is something I experienced during my freshman year.”
“I equate him to (Buffalo Sabres captain and former Boston University star) Chris Drury,” Burkholder said. “His style of leadership is to produce on the ice, and no one works harder, in practice and in games, than Sean. He is a playmaker. He creates time and space for his linemates.”
Bentivoglio’s quick burst is the first thing that jumps out at you as you start to reflect on his play on Niagara’s top line alongside Ted Cook and Les Reaney. As of this writing, the trio leads the nation in point production, but there are many other D-I players who possess Bentivoglio ‘s high-end speed.
Few, however, can match Bentivoglio’s power on skates, which in the classic definition set forth by Alain Hache in his indispensable book The Physics of Hockey, refers to the rate at which a player accomplishes work (skating, shooting, passing, etc.), or better stated as: P = fv.
It is this simple equation that illustrates Bentivoglio’s elite status . That power drove Bentivoglio to get repeated open looks at the opposition’s net in his first two seasons, except that his shooting and scoring instincts hadn’t quite caught up to his skating prowess.
Things started to change during his junior year, when Niagara’s coaching staff made it a point of emphasis for Bentivoglio to shoot the puck.
“I guess I will always think of myself as a player that passes first,” Bentivoglio said. “The coaches really worked with me, and kept on me, to shoot. I was fortunate to play with some older guys like Joe Tallari and Barrett Ehgoetz when I first came here. Now I have Cookie (Ted Cook) and Les (Reaney). We just seem to click.”
“Click” is an understatement.
“First of all, they (Bentivoglio, Cook and Reaney) have great hockey sense,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “Second, they never turn their back on the puck. Third, they have the two big strong guys in Cook and Reaney.
“And Bentivoglio is the dynamic guy who makes things happen. He just might be the best all-around player in our league, and he seems to have what it takes to play at the next level.”
For now, though, the next level for Bentivoglio is as close as the next practice, or the next dry-land training session, or any of the other team activities that play out on a daily basis in a bruising season of Division I hockey.
Bentivoglio realizes that time is short. CHA teams battle each other with the ferocity of the Hatfields and the McCoys for that one opportunity to move on in March. Bentivoglio has been through the process three times before.
With each game the plot thickens, the unexpected astonishes — a bounce here and a bounce there — and to the victor, as has been written, belong the spoils.