Thursday, January 19, 2017

Minnesotan Benton Maass Commits to UNH

2017 UNH Commit
Benton Maass

Minnesota has long been a hotbed for elite hockey players. For example, there have been 243 Minnesota natives to play in the National Hockey League - more than any other state. One former UNH player, Chris Pryor (Class of 1993) from St. Paul, made it to "the show" as a player with the Minnesota North Stars and New York Islanders and is currently the Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel for the Philadelphia Flyers.

With so much talent developing in one state, it's a little surprising that only 9 Minnesotans have played men's hockey at the University of New Hampshire. The last was Shawn Vinz from Rochester, MN who graduated in 2007. Maybe that trend is about to change. Last Friday, 18-year-old defenseman Benton Maass (DOB: 11-25-1998) from Elk River, Minnesota committed to UNH and is projected to enroll in the Fall of 2017.

Over the last few months, the 6'2", 195 lbs., right-shot blueliner has been the subject of positive reviews:
"(Benton Maass) is strong and poised and was able to create with the puck." Neutral Zone
"He has excellent mobility and some offensive upside. Sees the ice very well and is good at getting his shot through from the point." George Ross, Scout for Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
"I think we’ve got two of the best defensemen in the state coming back in Benton Maass and Nick Perbix (St. Cloud State commit)." Ben Gustafson, Head Coach, Elks River, Minnesota High School
In early October, the NHL Central Scouting Services released it's initial "Players to Watch" list for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Benton Maass (pronounced "Mass") was on the list and received a "C" rating. The NHL CSS identified Maass as a candidate to be drafted in the 4th, 5th, or 6th round next June in Chicago. He maintained that status on the updated "Players to Watch" list in mid-November.

Yesterday, the NHL scouting service released its Midterm Ratings of 2017 draft prospects and Maass was listed as the #158th North American skater. It's very difficult to accurately predict his chances of being drafted by an NHL team in June. For example, of the #155-#165 North American skaters on last year's Midterm Rankings, only one was selected in the 2016 NHL Draft. What is certain is that NHL scouts are following Maass' development and considering him a potential draft pick.
Defenseman Benton Maass
Elk River High School


Benton Maass grew up playing for the Elk River Youth Hockey Association. Elk River is located about half-way between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud. He started playing for Elk River High School, one of the top teams in Minnesota, as a sophomore. The top, high school conference in Minnesota is divided into 8 Sections and winners of the Sectional Tournaments advance to the Class AA State Tournament. Elk River won the Minnesota State Championship in 2001.

As a junior last season, Maass was a co-captain and scored 6 goals and 16 assists in 25 regular season games. In the Sectional Tournment, the third-ranked Elk River team advanced to the semifinals and Maass tallied 1 goal in two playoff games.

Last June, Benton Maass was selected in the 4th Round (96th overall) of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Draft by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Fairbanks had won the 2016 NAHL Championship. Because the Minnesota High School season did not begin until the end of November, Maass played 17 games for Fairbanks in September, October, and early November. He scored 2 power play goals and distributed 6 assists. These video highlights show both of his goals, one assist, and a heavy hit in the defensive zone:

Scouting Reports

The NAHL held its Annual Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota in late September, 2016 and over 300 NHL, college and junior scouts attended. Among them were scouts from Neutral Zone** who ranked Maass as an "A-" player and provided this assessment:

"The late 1998 did a lot well here. He is strong and poised and was able to create with the puck. He rated in our top three players in each of Fairbank’s games. To become a plus player, Benton must improve play in his own end. He has a ton of upside and was one of the best prospects in the showcase. He is a new player for Neutral Zone and played at Elk River (MN) HS last year."
Rating - 3 3/4 out 5 Stars.

** Reprinted by permission of Brendan Collins, Director of Scouting at Neutral Zone.

Maass left the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in late November and rejoined the Elk River High School team for his senior season. As the team's captain, Maass has scored 3 goals (2 PPG) and 17 assists (5 PPA) in 15 games. Elk River is having one of its best seasons in recent years. The Elk River Elks' record is 12-3-0 and they are ranked #3 in the state.

George Ross, a scout for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League who covers the Minnesota region, provided this assessment of Maass:
"Benton Maass will add much needed mobility to the back end for UNH. Never considered one of the top guys in his age group growing up, he is a classic late bloomer who was somewhat of a forgotten man in a good and deep Elk River program. Before returning to the Elks for the high school season, he spent the fall in Fairbanks (NAHL) and was their best defenseman at the NAHL showcase in Blaine in September. He has excellent mobility and some offensive upside. Sees the ice very well and is good at getting his shot through from the point. Should be a good fit for the big sheet in Durham."


I had an opportunity to interview Benton Maass, via email, about his hockey career and commitment to UNH:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulations on your commitment to play for the University of New Hampshire. What are the main reasons you chose UNH?

Benton Maass: I chose UNH for a variety of reasons. During my visit, I really connected with the guys on the team and the coaching staff which was a big priority of mine. They made me feel like I was at home. I also really liked the campus and schooling that New Hampshire offers which was another big reason why I decided to go there.

Mike Lowry: What other college programs were you considering? Which schools did you visit and which ones made an offer to you?

Benton Maass: I took my time with the process and looked at a variety of colleges out east and in my home state of Minnesota before committing to New Hampshire.

Lowry: Have you and the UNH coaches agreed on a target date for you to enroll as a freshman at UNH and join the team?

Maass: I will be enrolling as a freshman next fall (2017) and will be joining the team for the upcoming season.

Lowry: At this stage in your hockey development, what are the strengths of your game? What areas are you trying to improve?

Maass: I think of myself has a solid two way defenseman. I am very calm and poised with the puck and always look to make plays that will benefit my team. The areas I need to work on would be my skating because a player can always get faster and my puck handling skills.

Lowry: The Fairbanks Ice Dogs selected you in the 4th Round of the 2016 North American Hockey League Draft and you played 17 games with them from mid-September to early November. You then returned to your hometown high school team in Elk River, Minnesota for your senior season. Hockey fans from New England may not have a full appreciation of how important high school hockey is in Minnesota. Would you describe the tradition of Minnesota HS hockey and the reasons you decided play for Elk River this season?

Maass: I don’t think there is a better place to play high school hockey than in Minnesota. It is almost all community based which allows you to play with the same guys for most of your youth and high school experience. I chose to stay and play my senior year in Elk River because I wanted one last go and playing with all my friends, most of which I have grown up playing with, and the chance at getting to play in a state tournament.

Lowry: In your sophomore and junior years at Elk River, the team was coached by former NHL defenseman Gordie Roberts. How did he help you develop as a defenseman?

Maass: He always had a lot of good, small tips that he would encourage the defensemen to try during practice and games. Having his experience as a player and scout in the NHL definitely helped with my development as a defenseman.

Lowry: When your season at Elk River ends, do you plan to return to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs for the remainder of the NAHL season?

Maass: Yes, I will be returning to Fairbanks to finish out their season after my high school season is done.

Lowry: The NHL Central Scouting Service identified you as a "Player to Watch" and a "C" prospect (a candidate for selection in the 4th, 5th or 6th round) for the 2017 NHL Draft. No doubt, that means that NHL scouts have been showing up at games to watch you play. Does that enter into your mind when you're out there playing? If so, how do you handle it?

Maass: I try to not think about things like that too much. In the end, it all comes down to playing well and continuing to develop as a player and a person.

Lowry: What are your academic strengths and interests? Have you thought about what you might major in when you enroll at UNH?

Maass: I have interest in almost all areas of academics. I plan on majoring in business finance at UNH with plans to go to law school at some point after my 4 years at New Hampshire.


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