In 2009 Jordie Benn was trying to figure out if he could make it in the game he loves. He was a defenseman for the Allen (Texas) Americans, a team in the now-defunct Central Hockey League, at least three rungs below where he wanted to be.
His younger brother, Jamie, was in his rookie season with the Dallas Stars, playing his games some 30 miles south. He would score 22 goals that season, establishing himself as one of the most exciting young power forwards in the NHL. Jodie was still waiting and wondering if there was a place for him in the world‘s best hockey league.
Not that Jordie was or is jealous. Not at all. He is the consummate older brother. He loves Jamie. Loves what he can do on the ice, even if he can’t quite figure out how his little bro just made that move, scored that goal. Jordie loves that Jamie is a star, a sniper on the ice. He often shakes his head at the stuff Jamie does on the ice. Like when Jamie clinched the Art Ross Trophy last season with a four point night, the last coming eight seconds to go in the Stars’ final game. Jordie can be seen saying to a teammate, “That’s unbelievable,” his smile wide.
But Jordie, now 28, did have nagging doubts. Maybe it’s time to try something different, he thought. Am I really going to succeed at this hockey thing?
He would talk to his dad, Randy, back home in Victoria, B.C. And his dad would tell him not to worry. Have fun, play the game you love. Randy would take care of everything else.
“And he’d just say, ‘Never quit,’” Jordie recently told SI.com.
Jordie wakes up every morning now and sees those two words tattooed on his arm: Never Quit. He never did. He also wakes up in the same house as his little brother and they drive to the same place for work, just two kids playing the sport they love on the biggest possible stage.
GALLERY: NHL Stars and Their Lesser-Known Brothers
Growing up, the Benn brothers were outside, always. Baseball, hockey, it didn’t matter. They played at the tennis court that their friend Brian Smith had in his backyard. Strap on the roller blades and play for hours and hours in the Victoria sun.
They had dreams, sure, but it didn’t really cross their minds that something bigger was possible. They just played. And they kept moving up levels.
There was no sibling rivalry. They always got along well. OK, so there would be the occasional fight—they are brothers, after all—but they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
Jamie, now 26, was born two years later than his big brother, and with a short fuse. Jordie was even-keeled and there to diffuse an angry situation if it needed to be brought under control.
The Benns always played on the same team. In 2006-07, Jamie, then 17, took off, scoring 42 goals in 53 games for the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL and was drafted in the fifth round by Dallas. The brothers were set to play another season together in Victoria, when, three games into the 2007-08 season, Jamie moved on to Kelowna of the WHL, where he averaged 40 goals in two seasons. From there he was off to the NHL. Jordie, he became an undrafted free agent trying to cling to a dream.
“Everyone asks, ‘Are you jealous? Is there conflict between you two?’ And it’s just not the person I am,” Jordie says. “I want him to succeed to the best of his ability every night, and to go as far as he can in this league.”
A package deal
Now that the Benns are living together again, if you want to hang out with one, you’re going to end up hanging with both, whether you like it or not. That’s fine by Jason Demers, their teammate and close friend. He came over to the Stars last season in a trade with San Jose and was immediately paired on defense with Jordie. They enjoyed playing together and hanging out.
As they spent last summer in Dallas together while Jamie recovered from off-season hip surgery, Demers got a sense of the Benns’ relationship, and liked what he saw.
“Every day, it’s funny to see the dynamic,” Demers told SI.com. “The younger brother who’s the stud hockey player, and he has to deal with his big brother all the time. Sometimes, Jamie will think he’s the big dog in the family. But he’s still the kid brother.”
The Benns bring a family atmosphere to the Stars’ locker room and Demers enjoys every minute of it.
He also likes that even though Jamie is the team’s captain, everybody supports Jordie, who has been nicknamed Yukon Cornelius because of his resemblance to the character in the animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He sometimes jokingly refers to himself as The Other Benn. “The important thing is that the guys in the room and his brother know what he brings to the team, how important he is to the team, not just right now but going forward,” Demers says.
The Stars are heading for the new year with the best record in the Western Conference, a glimmer of hope seven years and four coaches after their last playoff round victory. They have Jamie and Tyler Seguin, two of perhaps the best five players in the league. They have young rising talents like defenseman John Klingberg, veteran playmakers in Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza, effective depth with backliner Johnny Oduya and winger Antoine Roussel.
And they have a bond between two brothers that is unbreakable.
“There’s not much sibling rivalry,” Demers says. “Just sibling support and love.”
Jordie finally got his break when the Stars organization signed him in October 2010. He stayed with their AHL team for two seasons, playing regularly and effectively, earning call-ups to the Stars as their seventh or eight defenseman. He was often scratched, but he never forgot his father’s advice.
“I bided my time,” Jordie says. “I took it upon myself to work hard every day. Keep things fairly simple. A little bit of timing, little bit of luck. I’m here now.”
He cracked the Stars regular lineup in 2013-14, played in 73 games, scored 20 points and averaged 19 minutes of ice time. In their first round playoff matchup against Anaheim, he scored three points in six games, averaging 21 minutes on ice and earning a reputation as a solid, depth defenseman.
“It’s all confidence,” he says.
There was a time when the brothers’ roles were reversed. It was back in juniors. Jordie was 18, playing in a league of 20-year-olds. He had been in the BCHL for a full season, a lifetime of development for a teenager, and was a stellar defenseman for Victoria, his former teammate Jordan MacIntyre says. And when Jamie joined the team full-time in 2006, he was a chubby kid following his big brother.
Jordie showed him the ropes, MacIntyre recalls. Showed him how to compete in a league of soon-to-be-men. Everyone knew Jamie was going to be a star—he was dominant even then. But Jordie was already a professional.
MacIntyre, now a chiropractor in Edmonton, ran into the Benns a few years ago in Vancouver. And nothing about them had changed, despite their NHL status.
“That was refreshing,” MacIntyre says.
They’re now two brothers who made it to the big time. One’s the star, the other the unflashy workman. That suits them just fine.
“We get to do it for a living,” Jordie says. “It’s pretty cool to do it together.”