Ryan Benesch is not just one of the greatest players in NLL history; he is the greatest player in league history to never win an NLL championship.
Last game out versus the Georgia Swarm, the Halifax Thunderbirds forward recorded his 698th, 699th, and 700th regular season NLL assists. The last two helpers came within the last five minutes of the 17-7 blowout loss to the Georgia Swarm, including that all-important 700th dime, which came with 10 seconds left in the match.
With that last assist, he became only the 9th player in NLL regular season history to reach 700 assists. This was only a week after Benesch became the 7th player in NLL regular season history to earn 1,200 points. A week before that, on March 18th, Benesch played in his 250th regular season NLL game, making him the 14th player in NLL regular season history to reach that mark. On March 3rd against the Buffalo Bandits, Benesch reached another historic milestone when he became just the 5th player in NLL regular history to reach 500 goals scored, a week ahead of Dane Dobbie accomplishing the same feat.
But wait, there’s more. In the Thunderbirds February 4th game against the Calgary Roughnecks, Benesch became the 17th player in NLL regular season history to reach 1,200 loose ball recoveries – he is one of only a handful of forwards to reach this mark. Now, let’s pause for a moment to take all of that in. In less than two months, Benesch reached five very rare milestones.
The moment he notched that 700th assist, Benesch became only the 3rd player in NLL regular season history to reach 500 goals, 700 assists, 1,200 points, and 1,200 loose balls. For those wondering, John Tavares and John Grant Jr. are the other two players to reach every one of those milestones. The fact that Benesch has had that many historic moments in less than two months is almost unfathomable.
Yet, somehow, even when Benesch learned how rare it had been for a player to do what he had just done, he was as cool as a cucumber and deflected all of the credit to the teammates and coaches he’s had in his 16-season NLL career.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” Benesch said. “But, as I’ve always said, and I’ll continue to say this until I stop playing lacrosse: the credit goes to my teammates and coaches. I’m just a product of my coaching staff and a product of my teammates. The things that they’ve done for me over my career have led to my success. I obviously wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
Benesch was practically left speechless after hearing his name listed with guys like Tavares, Grant Jr., Dan Dawson, Josh Sanderson and Colin Doyle. It was particularly special for him to know that he had reached a similar height to Doyle, who had been his coach during his time in Jr. A with the Kitchener–Waterloo Braves.
“They’re the guys that paved the way for me and the rest of the guys in the league right now and the ones that are still to come,” Benesch said. “I don’t know the right words to say for the impact those guys had on our league. Even for me growing up, I was looking up to them and modelling my game after some of them.”
It’s not often that Benesch is lost for words, but seeing that he’s achieved (almost) unprecedented success in such a short period, he hasn’t had a real opportunity to soak it all in.
Over the years, Benesch has been fortunate to attack opposing defenses with some great NLL talents, including the aforementioned Josh Sanderson, Callum Crawford, Dhane Smith, Chad Culp, Joe Resetarits, Ryan Lee, Aaron Wilson and Dan Teat, to name a few.
“As an offensive player, you always like to contribute to the team’s success and scoring points,” Benesch said. “When you get to be surrounded by great players like I have been fortunate to have been around in my career, the points will come.”
When Benesch and Crawford played with the Minnesota Swarm, they were a dangerous one-two punch. From 2010-2013 the pair combined for 678 points – Benesch had 334, while Crawford had 344. Wilson was another teammate that played with these two from 2010-2011, and Benesch and Wilson also played together for two seasons in Toronto.
In 2014, Benesch was in Buffalo with both Resetarits and Smith – the trio combined for 179 points that season. After Resetarits was traded to Rochester in the middle of 2015, the dynamic duo of Benesch and Smith was created. From 2014-2017, Benesch and Smith combined for 735 points. During that stretch, Smith set the NLL’s single-season point record (137 points in 2016), and in that same year, the team went to the NLL Finals but lost.
As for some of those other guys that Benesch has suited up with, he made sure to note two guys that helped him score a ton of goals. Chad Culp was part of the 2014 Bandits that had Resetarits, Smith and Benesch – he played with the team from 2011-2016, and Kevin Ross played with Benesch from 2010-2012.
“I always loved playing with Chad Culp,” Benesch said. “I found him and Kevin Ross to be the best pick-setters. They were so unselfish. They would work so hard to make sure they would get me open and make sure I got a shot.”
It has always been one of Benesch’s main focuses to be equally skilled at distributing the ball and putting it in the back of the net himself. Throughout his career, Benesch has recorded 50+ assists in six seasons and has scored 30+ goals in nine seasons.
When it comes to picking up loose balls off the turf, he’s been just as consistent, grabbing 70+ loose balls in 11 seasons. It’s not often that a forward collects more than 1,200 loose balls in their career, and Benesch knows that. He joked about his theory of how he reached that milestone.
“I don’t know if it’s luck, maybe,” Benesch said. “A lot of people will probably say it’s because I don’t really run off the floor too hard. Or, maybe it’s because I’ll just be standing in the right spot when the ball bounces around in a corner rather than doing the proper thing and running back to the bench.
“I always try and look ahead of the play,” Benesch continued. “So, if someone’s shooting the ball on the other side, it’s either going to hit the net or hit the boards. I put myself in a position where it will benefit me when and if the ball does hit the boards, it’s going to bounce to me.”
Despite all his personal success over 16 seasons in the NLL, Benesch is still trying to win his first NLL championship. Benesch is one of three current players in the NLL to have played 15+ seasons in the league and still not have won a title, and he is one of six players in NLL history to have played 15+ seasons and not won a title. It just so happens that Crawford and Culp are also part of that group. The desire to win a championship is what keeps Benesch going.
“It would mean everything to be honest with you,” Benesch said. “It’s the reason why we play. We play to win and to win championships – that’s the one that’s eluded me so far. I would love nothing more than to win one and then be able to hang it up.
“I don’t know how long that’s going to take, and I don’t know how long I have left in this league, but as long as there’s a team out there that wants me to play, I’m going to give 110% to try and win that championship.”
It would be frustrating and discouraging for Benesch if he missed out on this year’s playoffs. The Thunderbirds are currently in a bird/bee fight for the last playoff spot(s) in the East, tied with both the Wings and Swarm at 7-8. I should note: because of league and conference tiebreakers, if the postseason started today, the Thunderbirds would not be in the playoffs. There is a lot of lacrosse left to play so anything and everything can change in this final month of the regular season. It could come down to the last regular season game which sees Halifax heading to Georgia to take on the Swarm.
We don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to witness Benesch’s greatness on the floor – much of that depends on whether teams want him. With that in mind, we should cherish every moment we get to see this living legend pursue his dream.