NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Benayon adjusting well after the first half of the season

Zach Benayon has been adjusting well to the North American Hockey League in his first season with the Jackalopes.

The rookie forward from Toronto, Canada was drafted by the Jackalopes in this past summer’s NAHL Draft in the first round with the 13th pick overall.

The young player has so far managed three goals and six assists from 29 games so far this season but he’s eager to add more to his resume once the second half of the season gets underway.

“I think I’ve been doing pretty well,” Benayon said. “It’s a lot different here than where I played last year back home. I played at the OJHL but I’m still getting used to it here.”

Last season, Benayon played with the Souffville Spirit in the Ontario Junior Hockey League where he scored 13 goals and had 26 assists.

One of the challenges for Benayon has been getting used to playing against bigger, tougher players than in his previous league.

“I think it’s just playing with the bigger players and the bigger defensemen,” Benayon said. “It’s a lot harder.”

Going into this season, Benayon said his goals were to just simply play his game and keep playing well.

One of the things he’s had to focus on this year was his speed.

“It’s a lot quicker out here,” Benayon said.” It’s a lot harder to make plays so you have to always make sure who’s around you.”

Currently, the Jackalopes sit in sixth place in the NAHL South Division standings with a record of 13-12-2 with 30 points.

The league is in the middle of a two week break and the Jackalopes will resume on Dec. 29 with a road series against Corpus Christi.

The Jackalopes are coming off a three-game series against rivals Amarillo in which the Jackalopes went 1-2 from their final home series of 2023.

Odessa is only six points out of the top four and closed out the first half of the season on a high note (despite the two losses to Amarillo).

Odessa went on a four-game winning streak in December which has helped the team gather momentum after spending most of the first half of the season in seventh place.

The Jackalopes will go up against some new competition when they will face the defending Robertson Cup winner Oklahoma Warriors in January for the first time this season.

“That’s one thing we’re excited about,” Benayon said. “We haven’t played Oklahoma yet.”

The Warriors and the Jackalopes are currently tied for sixth as Oklahoma sits at 13-12-3 with 30 points.

One challenge Benayon and his teammates will have to face when they begin the second half of the season is another lengthy road schedule in which the Jackalopes won’t play a home game until Jan. 26 against the Warriors.

However, the long road trip is nothing new for the team as Odessa spent the first month and a half on the road.

“We were on the road to start the season so it’s tough,” Benayon said. “But we’ve been doing well … I feel like when we were on the road, it helped us a lot. We bonded a lot and it helps that we’ve been at home.”

However, at the moment, Benayon and his teammates are glad to have a break in the action to spend the holidays with their families.

Benayon said he aims to go home to Canada for the first time in four months for Christmas.

“I’m super excited,” Benayon said. “I’m looking forward to just hanging out with family and friends and catching up with everyone.”

He’s earned the praise from Jackalopes head coach Scott Deur.

“He’s a phenomenal kid,” Deur said. “He comes from a great family. He’s learning how to play the game and he’s one of the younger guys on the team. He’s one of the first guys on the ice and one of the last guys off the ice. He’s always putting in the work. He’s really fun to work with. You can see from where he was to where he is now, he’s improved and it’s exciting to see where he’ll go from here.”