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Denver native Bender finds NCAA D-III Salem State commitment checks all boxes for next step in career


Admittedly, Aidan Bender hadn’t planned on playing college hockey.

Then the right opportunity presented itself and the Denver native decided to switch gears and start his NCAA Division III career this fall at Salem State University, a school located in Salem, Mass.

I met Coach Chris MacInnis when I started with the Northern Cyclones U16s and after that season, he took the head coaching job at North Shore Academy where he recruited me,” said Bender. “We’ve been in contact ever since and when looking for a school, I loved the idea of playing for Chris once again. Salem has a really strong business program as well as a solid athletic building. Having the rink on campus attached to other amenities makes for a great environment and convenience.

“Academics are obviously important as an athlete and were a big part of my hockey career. However, I wasn’t sure if college was the right path for me. I have dual citizenship for the U.S. and U.K. and was planning on playing pro in England. There were some logistics this year that made me reconsider my options. Now that I am enrolled at Salem State, I’m excited to further my education.”

The past two seasons, Bender skated in the NCDC, playing for the Boston Advantage in 2022-23 and the Twin City Thunder this past season. Playing at a high level of the game is something Bender has always strived for, in addition to other components of hockey.

“My family were all Avalanche fans and when we would go to the games, I instantly fell in love,” Bender said. “My dad was also playing at the time and started to take me out to public skates. Since then, I have loved the Avs and hockey as a whole. I have even extended to other areas of the game in coaching and officiating.”

Once he wound up on skates for the first time, Bender said there was no looking back.

“I started skating at the Promenade in Westminster and played for the Hyland Hills Jaguars until my U13 year, then I played for the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders for one season and went back to Hyland until I eventually left home at 16,” Bender said. “I had so many great coaches along the way that played a huge role in my development. At Hyland, Tyson Davis and Doug Smail started me on the right path and
taught me how to find my game and work as hard as I could. During that time I was introduced to Katy Jo West, and I started power skating with her at 10. The skates really picked up when I was 14. I still skate with her and began to coach for her as well where I earned a power skating certification. Katy has played a huge role in my life, on and off the ice.

“It was also through a KJ skate that put me on Nick Skerlick’s radar. He was also a big influence. I played for Nick’s U18 New Jersey Titans team as a 16-year-old and really learned a lot about the next level. Nick made me a tougher player with a much stronger hockey IQ. Chris MacInnis is another influential coach that has helped me in so many ways, especially with my skills and development. I’m looking forward to having him as my head coach once again.”

The 2023-24 season helped Bender round out his game to be ready for the college ranks.

“Twin City taught me how to battle through adversity and the importance of a tight group,” said Bender. “It also gave me an opportunity to be an older player and step up as a leader. I honed in on my skills and my gritty style of game.”

The offseason here with college hockey right around the corner, Bender has started to focus on the immediate and long-term future.

“My short-term school goal is to adjust back into the schooling lifestyle smoothly and manage consistent good grades,” Bender said. “My long-term school goal is to get a degree from SSU that will apply to life after school. My short-term hockey goal is to work on skills and strength this summer to prepare me for the college jump. My long-term hockey goal is to finish a career at Salem and continue with my original plan of playing in England.

“I love the game and want to play for as long as possible with a smile on my face. Once that’s over, I’ll find other ways to stay around hockey.”

Photo/Martha Tatro & Ram McDonough

— Matt Mackinder

(May 23, 2024)

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