A CLOSER LOOK: TUCKER BENDER

BY: COLLIN SCHUCK
GOICERAYS.COM

Individuality among tradition often sends a strong message, even if it’s just in a name.

“I didn’t really choose one or the other. I’ve just gone by my middle name, Tucker, my whole life. ‘William’ was the name of my great grandparents on both sides, but my parents really liked the name ‘Tucker.’”

William “Tucker” Bender isn’t the first to hold his given name in his family. He isn’t the first to attend the famed Shattuck St. Mary’s. He isn’t even the first defenseman in the family. But his contributions both on and off the ice help him to re-navigate tradition.

One day prior to the 2015 NAHL Draft, the IceRays announced a trade that would free up one last tender for the 2015 season, which was used to acquire Bender and reserve him to the team’s 30-man protected list. A move that IceRays head coach John Becanic felt was necessary and important.

“We had to choose to tender him as we felt he would be gone in the first round of the draft, and we didn’t have a first round pick,” said Becanic. “Tucker is a key piece to our puzzle for the upcoming season.”

Bender completed his first season of junior hockey in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) with the Okotoks Oilers. The 19-year-old appeared in 66 games during the 2014-15 season, recording five goals and 11 assists for 16 points with 42 penalty minutes while helping to lead the charge among Oilers defensemen in points all season. And his mental acuity and talent on the ice developed starting at a young age from within his immediate family based in Snohomish, Wash.

Buddy Bender, Tucker’s father, played four seasons of NCAA hockey with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks from 1982-83 through 1985-86 as a defenseman, leading the team as captain for his final two years. He started introducing Tucker’s older sister, Lexi, to hockey at a young age, and she’s now coming off her junior season at nationally ranked Boston College while gaining national attention and Third Team All-USCHO accolades this year. Following the line, Tucker also began working into hockey while still young and developed the same position as those before him.

Among tradition, though, each has their individual style.

“Well my dad played a different style, maybe a bit rougher of a player or ‘cheap’ in today’s game,” said Tucker. “My sister is definitely a bit more offensive. She carries the puck a lot and plays that kind of a game. I’ll jump up in the play if the opportunity presents itself, but I’m definitely a defense-first type of guy.”

Tucker continued the line set by his sister by enrolling in one of the meccas for hockey development: Shattuck St. Mary’s boarding school, a program that has produced numerous NHL stars including Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. On top of the tutelage of his father and sister, Tucker continued his growth as a player and began to take hold of his own individuality on the ice.

“Playing in Shattuck St. Mary’s was obviously a very good experience, and I was fortunate to have that kind of an opportunity, especially playing there for five years. I learned a lot about playing the game of hockey.”

That brought Tucker to the Okotoks Oilers, where his individuality for the position as well as his personality went on display and gained much attention from NAHL coaches. The IceRays took notice and knew his value was worth moving parts to sign him to a tender and not take any chances.

“He is an extremely competitive and determined player, something I think we lacked at times last year,” said Becanic. “He is a natural leader and gives us a veteran guy to play in four top-four defensive pairings.”

But while both he and his sister develop different paths to reach their highest potential, the camaraderie among family members surely has its benefits, including having a workout partner for two hours each morning.

“It’s very nice having everything right in the family,” said Tucker. “They understand what you’re talking about, and I get feedback from my dad or my sister. We all help each other out. It’s very beneficial.”

The focus for Tucker remains in the future and continuing to develop his own individual brand of hockey. He will join eight other tenders in July with returning veterans, draft picks, and walk-ons at the IceRays Main Camp in July from Sugar Land, Texas. Moving to a new team can be hard, but Tucker is just looking forward to hockey season once again.

“It’s tough to leave an organization like Okotoks with great people over there, but I’m looking forward to everything that’s going on [in Corpus Christi]. I’m definitely very excited to get started and play in Corpus Christi.

“It’s an exciting time. You don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the season, and I’m looking forward to developing and getting better.”