Mark Benning '87
Ice Hockey - Hall of Fame Class of 2004
Harvard Athletic Achievements
Mark was a First Team All-American in 1986-1987 and a Second Team All-American in 1985-1986. He was twice selected First Team All-Ivy (1985-86, 1986-87) and was First Team All-ECAC in 1987. During Mark's four seasons with the Crimson, the team was 74-23-3, including a single season record of 28 wins in 1987. The Crimson won three Ivy League titles, one ECAC title and appeared in two NCAA Final Fours (1986 & 1987). He still holds the career record for assists by a defenseman with 102. A four-year letterwinner, Mark was also the 1987 Tudor Cup winner for Most Valuable Player and the 1987 Bingham Award winner for most valuable athlete in the senior class.
Remembering Harvard Athletics
Stepping on the ice is pure joy for me. Speed, grace, and power. Skating at Harvard was the pinnacle of this enjoyment. Fast ice, bright lights and rabid fans. I am very lucky that I reached the peak of my ability in an arena and community that appreciated the value of excelling at something one loves. Pursuing a passion that leads to excellence is what Harvard is all about. Joining the long history and legacy of Harvard hockey is more than I could have ever imagined or hoped for when I learned to skate many years ago.
According to my parents, I first experienced the joy of skating at age two. That may sound crazy here in the United States, but in Edmonton, Canada, that was normal. I can’t separate my hockey experience from those of my three brothers – Jim, Brian and Craig. Together, we formed a bond around the national sport of Canada. Family is at the center of my hockey identity. With four defensemen in the house, my mother sacrificed more than a few precious objects and glass windows to our improving slap shots and sibling rivalry. As a nurse, Liz tended our cuts, bruises and other hockey ailments. Ensconced on the hard-metal bleachers for the endless, year-round series of games, leagues and tournaments, she was our most vocal supporter. I hope that this recognition and the NHL careers of my brothers are reward enough for those bench-warming hours and freezing-cold fingers and toes.
We wouldn’t have progressed as far as we did or achieved the success we have without the tireless efforts of my father. Trained as a fireman, he learned the trades of equipment manager, assistant manager and head coach to be near his boys and participate actively in their lives. And he lived the philosophy that to excel at a passion, we needed the best equipment and the finest training. Trips all the way across town to sharpen our skates at the only shop that did it right and early morning drives to figure-skating lessons to hone our skills were par for the course. Elmer raised and shaped four great hockey talents and fine men, and in the process he achieved a career in pro scouting for himself when firefighting was done. I aspire to do for my boys what he did for his.
Leaving the camaraderie and support of this family to pursue my joy “down in the States” and do so at a legendary place like Harvard as a transfer student presented anxieties and obstacles I could not have overcome without the surrogate family I found here. The support came all the way from the top. Dean Michael Spence exemplified the opportunities laid open for me: Princeton hockey to Oxford scholar, then later a Noble Prize in Economics. His physical presence at games and his intangible endorsement of the role of a student athlete at an Ivy League school set the tone for me and my teammates. We were welcomed to share our talents in the arena and participate fully and rigorously in the intellectual life of the school. I appreciated his example so much I joined him again as a student during his tenure as Dean of the Business School at Stanford, fulfilling my academic desires and furthering the reach that hockey granted me.
Coach Cleary was the American extension of my father. Without ever trying to or imposing himself on my life, he became the quintessential mentor and role model. Recently joining efforts with the nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance at Stanford, I describe Coach Cleary as simply the best coach I ever had and one of the finest men I’ve met in my life. He instructed us and taught us directly, clearly and by example. He worked to understand us as players and people, motivating each and making us better as a group than the sum of our individual talents. I strive to emulate his style and technique in my management moments and certainly as a dad. I can only hope to be as great a leader and person one day as he is.
What I lacked in the actual interaction with my brothers and extended family while I was in Cambridge, I more than made up for in teammates, roommates, and hockey staff. None of us would have taken to the ice with such confidence and unity without the efforts and support of Jack Reardon, Fred Jewett, Fran Toland, Dick Emerson, Chet Stone and Artie Clifford. They helped keep our lives trying to combine school and sports organized and fluid. Fans saw us on the ice, but off of it they did everything to get us where we were. Playing defense with Randy Taylor, Jerry Pawloski and Don Sweeney transported me to the Edmonton basement when I knew my partner’s moves without ever having to see him. I learned to rely on them and our goalie, Grant Blair, implicitly. The lessons in trust, loyalty and reliance extend far beyond the rink. Playing on the same team with Scott Fusco, Lane MacDonald, Tim Barakett, and other great players helped make me look good. All of the awards and accolades I earned must be shared with them. Were it not for the combination of their overall talents and offensive skills, I could not have focused and concentrated on my defensive duties. I marveled at them while I played and thanked the hockey gods they were on my team and not skating against me. Some of my closest hockey friends like Bill Cleary, Rob Ohno, Pete Chiarelli and Mark Carney, and roommates like Shaun Donovan and Steve Dauphin became like brothers to me.
Adulthood molds the joys of hockey into a more startling and rejuvenating activity. I still play three times a week in an adult league where I torment and taunt the young Californians who think old fogies like me are past their prime. The weekly ritual ice time reminds me of what I’m good at, gives me a framework for approaching business situations, and fills me with pride and joy. I’ve met friends, made business contacts and most of all, stayed true to a central core of my identity and personality. I have not strayed from my passion, gleaming from it the energetic charge and impetus to tackle challenges and pursue other activities.
That my two young sons witness this joy and participate makes hockey an eternal and immortal aspect of my life. Street hockey on our California cul-de-sac is a summer evening, neighborhood activity. It’s my turn to coach, referee and haul the equipment. My lovely wife Jane plays nurse, cheerleader, goalie, and color commentator. Only the best for our boys; no effort is too much. Recently Jackson and Max started skating. The laughter, the fun and even the frustration and tears bring me back to the origins of my youthful days. I don’t remember being two when I started skating, but I know that the thrill propelled me to compete with and against my brothers amidst the active support of my parents, making me good enough to earn a spot on one of the best teams at one of the best schools in the world, and sending me to Silicon Valley where on golden-hued evenings I watch the sparks fly when my boys shoot and score.