Mac Bennett had seen Red Berenson’s glare before, but not here. There wasn’t a rink in sight.
But at 35,000 feet, the coach had a lot on his mind.
The Michigan hockey team was flying to Alaska, in search of its first win in seven tries. Mired in its longest losing streak since 1998, the Wolverines were nothing short of desperate. Their coach, however, chose not to focus on all of the negatives surrounding his team, and instead decided to get to know one of its defensemen.
He turned to Bennett.
“What are you studying, Mac?”
“I think I’m going to major in musicology,” Bennett offered.
Then he caught Berenson’s stare.
Bennett’s major, outrageously different from his coach’s business degree, took about 10 seconds for Berenson to process. And when he finally did, he didn’t mince words.
“What the hell is that?”
Undeterred, Bennett calmly explained what is possibly the College of Literature, Science and the Arts’ most obscure major, hoping to earn Berenson’s respect off the ice as he had with his play on it.
“I’m still trying to figure (the degree) out myself,” Bennett said later. “You learn about the history of music, music theory and all that stuff. … It’s a broad degree of music.”
Berenson mulled it over. If hockey doesn’t work out, does this kid have a plan to fall back on? So he asked one more question, looking for reassurance.
“Can you make money doing that?”
Bennett promised him that it was, in fact, possible. Satisfied, Berenson turned away and the aircraft continued its cruise against the jet stream into the great white north.
With the coach’s inquisition finally over, Bennett searched for an escape — from the white noise of a commercial plane and the burdens of a mid-season slump. He reached over for his fix of a drug that can get him through even the most difficult weekends. He dove into an alternate reality that relieves him of the stress that comes with being a Division I athlete.
Mac Bennett turned to music.
In a corner of the room — beneath a collection of papers, pens, candy wrappers and a Nyquil cup — is a desk. Beneath the rubble sits music-making equipment valuable enough to break the bank and powerful enough to fill auditoriums.
Don’t call that Rhode Island native with the NHL pedigree seated at the desk Mac Bennett.
In that setting, he goes by Beats.0, the stage name coined by Bennett and former teammate Scooter Vaughan, who graduated from Michigan in 2011.
Fixated on the illuminated screens in front of him, Bennett’s transition from blue liner to artist is as quick as the trip from Yost to his homemade studio.
Bennett’s bedroom, a converted dining room at the house he shares with teammates Luke Glendening, Shawn Hunwick, Greg Pateryn, David Wohlberg and best friend Derek DeBlois, offers virtually no privacy. His bed is separated from his rambunctious teammates in the living room by a sliding door that opens from either side.
At night, the setup can be a nuisance. Sleep is a precious commodity after logging hours at the rink. But when Bennett throws his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones over his ears, it’s like he’s still thousands of miles away in Alaska, too far away to be bothered, too focused to care.
Bennett has no shortage of musical influences, but Vaughan’s has been the most powerful. As an impressionable freshman last year, Bennett saw Vaughan, one of the team’s leaders, disc jockeying at house parties. By about December of 2010, Bennett decided that was something he wanted to pursue.
“I was over at (Vaughan’s) house one day and he had all of his (disc jockey) stuff out,” Bennett recalls. “Buttons and wheels and stuff — I wanted to touch things.”
Under Vaughan’s tutelage, Bennett learned the ropes. Like he would with a Berenson defensive scheme, he learned quickly. But the sounds he spun weren’t uniquely his — yet.
“And even when you’re gone, you’re always right here in my heart. I think about you all the time so we’re never apart.”
Mac looked across the stage at his then-girlfriend Sarah. With all 600 of The Hotchkiss School’s students waiting intently, he knew this was his chance.
Mac sat with his heart in his hands — and a guitar too. His serenade of Sarah went perfectly. By the time he was finished, there was hardly a dry eye in the place among the girls. After they stopped crying, they rushed home and downloaded the song, “Blue Eyes.”
If Bennett doesn’t look like he has the least bit of stage fright under the bright lights of Yost, it’s probably because he had to get over all of that really fast at boarding school.
Mac’s sister, Carly, a college-hockey prospect herself at Hotchkiss, won’t ever stop hearing about her heartthrob older brother.
“I cannot tell you the amount of times girls have come up to me and said ‘your brother’s song is so cute,’ ” Carly said. “I don’t know how much I like other girls saying how cute my brother is, but I do think it was very brave of him to perform that song in front of everyone, and I think any girl would be happy to have a song like that written about them.”
The gift of music wasn’t in Bennett’s DNA, so his parents had to find other ways to give it to him.
Bennett’s folks deserve credit for helping his musical journey, but it’s only their generosity — not their genes. In fact, Mac can’t help but laugh when asked if his folks have musical talent.
“Not at all,” he smirks.
Luckily for Mac, their gift-giving abilities far surpass anything they could do with their voices or on the guitar.
And when Christmas of their son’s freshman year came and there was just one thing on his list, they were happy to oblige.
On his laptop, Mac used to work with GarageBand — a basic program with limited capabilities. But if he wanted to get serious with his music, he needed an upgrade.
“Around Christmas time, I was looking at equipment and stuff,” Mac said. “There’s this program called Ableton Live, which I had done my research on.”
There were no surprises under the Bennett family tree in 2010, but what was waiting for Mac allowed him to surpass the learning curve. Using Ableton Live, Mac let his passion take over as he delved deeper into producing. He began to formulate his own musical identity.
Mac and DeBlois did everything together growing up. Their fathers played college hockey together at Brown and they’ve spent all but two years on the same team. The two were destined to be Wolverines together.
DeBlois’ earliest memory of the friendship is him chasing Mac around the house with a shovel. But their best memories together are of the 12-by-16 foot rink on the Bennett family deck.
That makeshift rink might as well have been Joe Louis Arena or Madison Square Garden to the youngsters. Now, they don’t have to pretend that’s where they’re skating.
Mac imagines each of his musical creations being played over the sound system at arenas. If he can’t picture it blaring through the speakers during warm-ups at Yost, or Joe Louis, where Mac is 6-2 as a Wolverine, then the song gets scrapped.
It’s not at all uncommon for him to begin producing a tune but scratch it before completion. It’s a process that Mac goes through constantly — ideas for songs hit him at the most random of times, but not all of them will come to fruition.
“If I’m bored, I’ll come in here and put up something and just start playing notes on a keyboard,” Mac said, motioning to the synthesizer resting on his desk. “At the time, I’ll think it sounds great. Then I’ll come back to it like two or three hours later and it’s like, ‘This sucks.’ I never delete anything. I just kind of forget about it.”
The rare gems that Mac doesn’t tire of — even after listening to them on loop for sometimes hundreds of times in a row — get added to his SoundCloud page. SoundCloud is an audio distribution platform for artists like Mac to promote their work. There, his music can be downloaded. From “Give Me Sex” — Mac’s coked-up remix of Rufus Wainwright’s “Instant Pleasure” — to the love-struck ditty he sang to his girlfriend on stage at Hotchkiss, his sound can vary.
Mac prefers to stick to electronic music, though he’s dabbled in other genres. Michigan captain Luke Glendening sang over a country song that Mac wrote.
It doesn’t even matter what kind of music Mac’s making. That he’s doing it at all is enough to keep him sane.
Sunday mornings are the laziest time of the week at the teammates’ house. On one in particular, Mac stirs in bed. He smiles — the Wolverines completed a crucial league sweep of Miami (Ohio) the night before, avenging an earlier series. Then, as he rolls out of bed, he winces. Mac’s everything hurts after a physical weekend.
Sundays aren’t for hockey. Everyone on the team takes the day to rejuvenate, doing their own thing.
“That’s what Sundays are there for,” Mac said. “You have a hard week, you’ve got practice and school and stuff so you got a lot of time put towards that, so on Sundays you just kind of want to do nothing.”
Some play video games. Hunwick was recently introduced to the Ultimate Fighting Championship games and finds that to be a better outlet than getting in a melee himself like he did earlier this season.
“Watching Shawn play is so funny because he gets really into it,” Mac said. “He’ll be like grinding on controllers with his teeth and stuff.”
Mac chooses to hobble over to his home studio, conveniently just a few paces away.
His two favorite pastimes, hockey and music, occupy his weekend. You’d be hard pressed to find any similarities between the two.
Mac thinks hard and then shakes his head.
“Complete, polar opposites,” he said.
Then Mac pauses.
“That’s why it’s awesome.”
As Mac’s learned, being a Division-I athlete is tough work. When he’s not at the rink, he wants to be as far removed from the hockey world as possible. He emphasizes the importance of exploring passions outside of athletics. Without a release, the weeks pass by in a wearied blur. The music helps Mac escape that lonely road.
“I think you play your best when you’re relaxed and stress free,” Mac said. “At least for me, this is a big part of that. You go into the games and you’re gripping your stick too tight, or you’re thinking too much, you’re going to make mistakes. This …” he says, gesturing to the wealth of equipment on his desk, “keeps me levelheaded.”
To say the hockey team’s music selection for its post-practice lifting sessions is eccentric would be an understatement. The speakers blast Taylor Swift as grown men move weights. The song changes — gangster rap.
Finally, one of Mac’s mash-ups begins to play. Pateryn’s ears perk up. He’s the biggest fan of Mac’s music amongst the team. He’s usually the first one Mac gives a finished song.
“I think (the team) has mixed reactions,” Mac said. “I think the part they dislike the most is that it’s loud.”
Regardless of how they feel about the constant racket coming from Mac’s room, the Wolverines accept that what he does off the ice is every bit a part of him as what he does on it. They even dubbed him “Mac Beats,” a name that’s stuck.
As for the future, Bennett hopes he’ll succeed in what brought him to Michigan in the first place — the hockey. But all of his eggs aren’t in one basket. And for that, Berenson is thankful. Too often, he hears about how former players of his have turned into “hockey bums,” or people who never know when to hang up the skates and move on. If the Montreal Canadians, who drafted Mac in 2009 never come calling … well, he’ll be just fine.
“If hockey didn’t work out, I think the next coolest thing to do would be to open up a studio and kind of do my own thing,” Mac said. “That would be like the dream.”
But it’s not what he dreamt about on that 12-by-16 foot rink on his back porch in Rhode Island. So he reconsiders.
“But hopefully hockey works out first.”
Mac picked up music as an escape from hockey. But as he’s learned, there’s no escaping the music.