October 20, 2022 – Austin Owens
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan Benesch had questions about the future of his playing career.
The 2019-20 season had just come to an abrupt end, and with the world at a standstill due to the worldwide health event, the then 35-year-old started to weigh his options.
“As an athlete, you want to play for as long as you can, but when the pandemic hit, I was at the point where I could either keep playing or stop and be happy with the career that I’d had,” Benesch said. “I was talking with my wife, and she pushed me to keep playing. It was always kind of a goal of mine to be able to have a child of my own and have them come and watch me play. Fortunately, that happened last year.”
Benesch and his wife, Jaide, welcomed their baby boy, Parker, to the world in 2021.
The long off-season was a trying one for the veteran. He was a pending free agent after finishing with 18 goals and 51 points with the Thunderbirds in the abbreviated campaign. But he left The Nest through expansion, as Panther City scooped him up to bolster their forward core.
The lefty made a commitment to Bob Hamley and the new side and opened the season out in Fort Worth. After putting up 12 points over three games, Benesch was on the move again, this time to Albany via trade. He was back in the East Division and closer to his family.
“Having a young son, it was difficult to make that travel work,” Benesch said. “I realized how difficult it was to have him and commit myself to a sport that’s so physically demanding. You’re leaving on a Thursday night or Friday morning, and you’re gone for three days and have a two-month-old at home, mom might need a little bit of help here and there, and you’re not able to give her that assistance.
“Luckily for us, we have a great support system with our families. They’re always there whenever we need them, and I’m just beyond grateful that she and our families are so supportive of me playing lacrosse.”
Benesch was as productive as always during the 2021-22 season, finishing the year with 81 points while appearing in all but one game. But his favourite moment of last season was the first game that Jaide and Parker were able to be in attendance.
“That was pretty emotional for me. Watching her walk down the steps with Parker in her arms and he’s got a little ’Daddy No. 7’ jacket on. She put him up to the glass so he could see me on the floor. Man, that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced in sports. It’s an indescribable feeling that you get when you experience it,” Benesch said.
Benesch also added that he did get a bit of an extra boost following the birth of Parker.
“Dad strength is definitely a thing,” he said with a laugh. “Especially now that he’s 11 months old and 25 pounds heavy, every time you’re holding him, you’re going to get some sneaky arm curls in there. So, dad strength is definitely real.”
Following the season, Benesch became a free agent. With the opportunity to decide on a team to call home for the following season, he had a few options, with the Thunderbirds being one.
Benesch never got the opportunity to finish his lone season with the Thunderbirds, and his familiarity with the organization as a whole played a big role in his final decision. He signed a one-year deal with Halifax on Aug 14.
“I never wanted to leave in the first place. I was picked up in the Expansion Draft, and things happen for a reason. But I was very content and happy being with Halifax. I thought the year that COVID shut us down, we were the best team in the league and had a good chance of winning it all that year,” Benesch said. “A lot of the same guys are there, and I’ve kept in touch with them even though I was on other teams."
In bringing Benesch back into the fold, the Thunderbirds add one of the top-scoring lefties of his generation. The future NLL Hall-of-Famer currently sits sixth all-time in career goals (480) and ninth all-time in both assists (662) and points (1,142).
He’ll reunite with Thunderbirds captain Cody Jamieson, along with the likes of Austin Shanks, Clarke Petterson, Chris Boushy, and Eric Fannell, among others.
Benesch was the first of two major acquisitions on the offensive end this off-season. He and star righty Randy Staats will help a revamped Thunderbirds unit.
With training camp on the horizon, Benesch has his eyes on getting back to Halifax and helping the team take the next step in 2023.
“It’ll mean everything to me,” Benesch said on returning to The Nest. “In 2019, you could just tell that the city had bought into lacrosse and bought into our team, and we were going to get full support from them. And unfortunately with COVID, we haven’t had a full season there. I’m just excited to see what kind of intensity our fans are going to bring every game. It’s one of those atmospheres where you just feed off the crowd's energy because you know that they’re so invested in you.
“It’s going to be awesome. I know the first time running back out of that tunnel, I’m going to be nervous as all hell. But I’m excited…I’m really excited. I think we’ve got a great group. We’ve got some new faces, but with the moves that we’ve made, I’m excited for the future.”
Heading into his 16th National Lacrosse League campaign, Benesch is playing for a lot more than just himself. He’ll take the floor with the Thunderbirds this season with his baby boy, wife, family and friends, and the city of Halifax cheering him on.
The Thunderbirds return to Scotiabank Centre December 2nd, as they open their 2022-2023 campaign against the Philadelphia Wings. Season tickets to watch championship-caliber professional lacrosse in Nova Scotia are on sale at HalifaxThunderbirds.com or by calling or texting 902-334-2333