All the ice around him was not enough to stop hockey forward Samuel James Bengzon from heating up the SM Mall of Asia Skating Rink, in what would go down as one of his best moments in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
With less than six minutes left in the final period and a Singapore goal tying it up two apiece just a minute ago, Bengzon found the barely open ice and went for the kill, hitting his first international competition goal to a wild response from the crowd.
“When I scored that goal, I went straight to where my family was,” he said, recounting how he skated to the glass barricade to share his triumph with his loved ones and fans.
From his composure at that moment, one could not tell the 30-year-old was not even sure he would be in this arena this year. Go further back to two years ago, and he was not even a hockey player.
Bengzon first found his spot on the ice when he was 10. But at the time, he and his cousins were more interested in figure skating–this was until an old coach approached him and asked if he wanted to try another ice sport.
“I already saw Mighty Ducks and I was a big fan of the movie,” he said of the 1992 Disney hockey film. “Then a few months after, I tried hockey, fell in love with it, and kept playing.”
His Disney fantasy soon became a reality when Bengzon started competing in hockey meets until high school, while also doubling as a varsity baseball player in the process. But just before college, he felt he wanted to have a normal balance of schoolwork and social life, which led him to leave behind his childhood sport.
Instead of picking up his club for training nights like most of his contemporaries, Bengzon spent a decade away from the puck, building a family of his own and getting into the poultry and CrossFit training businesses. Incidentally, being a fitness coach kept him ready to go back into the rink anytime, as it honed his discipline and maintained his athletic form.
“In Crossfit, everything is about trying to learn. It teaches you discipline and knowing yourself,” he said. “So I think it really helps with the hockey aspect; I know myself and I know what I need to work on.”
What ultimately got him back in the fray was his being a dad. Last year, he and his wife were deciding which sport their four-year-old son should play. They settled on ice hockey.
Bengzon eventually realized that the best way to get their child interested in the game was for him to have a role model to look up to. Wanting to play again either way and with the support of his wife and kid, he took a jersey and went back to the rink.
“Most of the time, [my son] would beg to watch us practice. He loves skating, he loves the ice,” he said. “My wife, she knows not to wake me up after a night of hockey, so she brings the kids out of the room just so I don’t wake up.”
It was never going to be easy coming back from a ten-year hiatus, but Bengzon caught up with invaluable help from his teammates, who were kind enough to spend extra sessions outside of their weekly routine training him on the ice. He regained his form just in time for this year’s IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, helping his team lead group A of the preliminary round and finish silver against the once 45th-ranked team in the world, Mongolia.
“It’s really nice to have Sam as part of our team, because ever since I was really young, he’s actually the one I look up to in the ice. The guy’s my idol,” said defenseman LR Lancero. Bengzon, during his first hockey run, was there when Lancero took his first step on the rink at three years old.
“He’s a guy that I trust and depend on, not just him but all of my teammates, because it’s really good to have someone behind your back to support you,” he added.
Now in the thick of his first SEA Games stint and with two international goals in winning games, Bengzon’s focus is to keep at it as his team faces powerhouse Thailand — which has not allowed a single goal from opposing teams.
What gives them confidence, he said, is a home court advantage like nothing any of them had seen.
“Thank you for all your support so far, the Facebook messages, the reposts. After the first win, I spent an hour before going to sleep just thanking everyone,” Bengzon said. “It really helped. Every small message like, ‘good job,’ we remember it.”