Antonio Bennardo was once that pumped-up young athlete that was a little shaky hitting the ice for the first time at the ice rink.
Every hockey player has that moment.
Usually a mother is cringing nearby when their son or daughter crashes onto the ice.
All hockey players have to learn to skate on the ice before they can compete and be confident enough to chase down the puck and be aggressive in such a fast-paced sport.
A battle-tested senior, Bennardo has been there and done that.
As he looks to wrap up his fourth and final season, Bennardo is one of the few experienced and veteran players for 10-year head coach James DiRosa’s co-ed squad.
While many seniors would love to be lighting the lamp with all kinds of goals and assists on a high-scoring team, Antonio Bennardo has had an intriguing season.
Bennardo had a position change, focusing on playing sound defense, plus he’s helping a Tiger staff mentor one of the youngest teams in recent memory.
The unselfish Bennardo is playing for Twinsburg.
"It’s great to be part of such a young team," he stated. "Since most of us learned the game in high school, we have built strong chemistry and respect for each other."
Inexperience at the high school level can lead to plenty of 9-0 losses in hockey.
Has there been some frustrating moments?
Sure, there has, but DiRosa’s troops have done their part.
"It is really cool to see this and be a part of it," pointed out Bennardo, who has played most positions on the ice.
Learning to walk again. The process can be long and Bennardo was eager to point out the most challenging aspects.
"Definitely, learning to walk again," he said and went on to explain.
"Being on the ice in front of your peers and repeatedly falling over and struggling is not something many people can do, however, those who can do this, will experience something that is unforgettable."
Besides the physical fundamentals, Bennardo alludes to the mental piece – via DiRosa and his decade-plus of mentoring the Tiger system.
"The second aspect is "all between your ears" as my coach likes to say," proclaimed Bennardo.
"This means one of the hardest parts of this game is keeping your head up and not giving up, no matter the score or how you feel," he explained.
"You have to learn to keep going, keep pushing, this is not an easy thing to do," stressed Bennardo. "I have gotten discouraged many times in my years playing this sport, but I have never once given up."
That goes back to that "unforgettable" experience of conquering the ice and the speed that comes with it. That is the immediate reward.
As a young and hungry freshman, Bennardo was honored as Twinsburg’s "Rookie of the Year."
The "Team Player" recipient for the Tigers in his junior campaign, Bennardo obviously had some respect as those awards are voted on teammates and coaches.
Bennardo has played as a wing for all four seasons on the team, plus he played center his junior season and at the outset of this season. This year he has played defense.
Hoping that his deep resume will help him get to the next level of hockey, Bennardo has goals.
"My interests include attending Kent State University to major in architectural design as well as playing hockey for the university," Bennardo commented.
Twinsburg has featured at last a half dozen of hockey players who went on to participate in next-level competition.
Standout goalie Hannah Zochowski is one example as she graduated last year and is now at Division II McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois.
This is a hockey family. Bennardo’s father, Rocky Bennardo, is a veteran assistant coach under DiRosa.
There is also proud mother Cynthia, along with brothers Rocco and Damon, plus sister Arianna. Damon played hockey during Antonio’s freshman and sophomore seasons while Arianna is a freshman forward this year.
Moving up a division this winter in league play has put a few blemishes on the ledger for the young Tigers, but DiRosa’s athletes have excelled off of the ice as well.
The Tiger program, which has hosted a slew of community skate nights, has long been active in the local community in various events like the Twinsburg Santa Breakfast and the Twins Day Festival.
Through the years, Bennardo has felt that local connection along with his brothers and sister.
Possibly the biggest highlight in his career didn’t come individually – Bennardo cherishes the team moments.
Playing for a share of a league title and for a bid to the Baron Cup are exciting just as helping the Tigers in this year’s Bay Village Rocket Tournament team championship.
"I think the most memorable moment was being on the ice when the final buzzer went off for the Bay Village Tournament," noted Bennardo. "This was the very first championship that Twinsburg hockey has won in school history."
As Bennardo and senior teammate Travis Poznik were moved to defense, Twinsburg went 3-0 for the tourney crown, including a title winning 4-0 victory over Lyndhurst Brush.
Twinsburg also posted a 6-1 victory over Bay and were 5-4 winners over Elyria Catholic.
Even though Bennardo was moved to defense, he registered a few assists in the action at Winterhurst Arena in Lakewood.
"The emotions that flooded through me and the team at that moment was unreal," revealed Bennardo. "Being a part of that moment is something I will never forget."
Those are the rewards for a warrior on the ice like Bennardo, who has something to offer teammates between the ears – attributes like determination and sacrifice.