Dawson Mercer's Stanley Cup pursuit has its roots in a tiny Bay Roberts fitness centre


Dawson Mercer is flourishing in the bright spotlight that goes along with playing in the NHL — with his New Jersey Devils now embroiled in a second round Stanley Cup playoff battle with the Carolina Hurricanes.

But the talented and tough 21-year-old can trace some of his success to a nondescript training centre in his hometown of Bay Roberts, and a hockey-crazed uncle who pushed and guided him from the very first time Mercer pulled on a pair of skates.

Bo Bennett runs a program called Br8K Away Hockey, and operates a fitness centre on Bishop’s Road, where players gather to do off-ice training.

The ground floor features the usual weight training equipment, but the walls are covered in photos and news clippings that feature some of the best hockey talent to emerge from the area in recent years, including Mercer.

The fitness centre’s second level is known as the “torture chamber,” because that’s where athletes are pushed to their limits: running, jumping, pushing and pulling.

For years, Mercer shed pools of sweat in that gym, ensuring his body was prepared for the rigours of elite level hockey. He still trains at Br8K Away in the off-season.

“He’s the most genuine person that you know you’ll ever meet,” Bennett told CBC News during a visit to his Bay Roberts facility this week.

Dawson Mercer (91) of the New Jersey Devils celebrates with Erik Haula after scoring a goal against the New York Rangers during the second period of Game 5 of an NHL Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Thursday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

But Bennett and his son, Zach, are hoping they won’t see Mercer walk through the front entrance of the fitness centre anytime soon, and that he’ll be too busy helping the Devils go deep into the playoffs.

“He’s just focused on that dream and he always has been,” Zach Bennett, 22, said of Mercer’s Stanley Cup aspirations.

Zach and Dawson grew up together in Bay Roberts, and both had tremendous success in the minor hockey ranks. Both went on to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with Bennett winning a Memorial Cup in 2017. The Memorial Cup is awarded to the top major junior team in Canada at the end of a playoff series in early June. 

Bennett now plays professional hockey in Europe.

Mercer made his mark early — as a teenager on the international scene helping Canada claim a gold medal at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. He won silver the following year.

He was drafted 18th overall by the Devils in 2020, and had an impressive rookie season last year with 17 goals and a total of 42 points.

He topped those numbers this year, with 27 goals and 56 points on a team loaded with stars such as Jack Hughes, Nico Hishier and Timo Meier.

Now he’s playing on the biggest stage of all: the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

But the Devils started slow against the Hurricanes Wednesday night, falling 5-1. Mercer was held off the scoresheet and played just under 13 minutes.

A portrait style smiling Bo Bennett standing in his fitness centre
Bo Bennett is a well-known hockey coach and trainer in Bay Roberts. He’s also Dawson Mercer’s uncle, and longtime coach of the New Jersey Devils’ star forward. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The hockey community throughout Conception Bay North, however, was buzzing after Mercer and the Devils eliminated the star-studded New York Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Devils overcame a slow start and it took seven games, clinching their first playoff series win in 11 years on Monday.

And Mercer was a key ingredient in that series win, scoring two goals and adding an assist. He also logged between 14 and 18 minutes of ice time per game, and played in many key situations.

A portrait style photo of hockey player Zach Bennett, wearing a baseball hat
Zach Bennett of Bay Roberts played professional hockey in Hungary last season and won a Memorial Cup in 2017 as a member of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan. He’s also Dawson Mercer’s first cousin. The pair grew up together in Bay Roberts. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

It was Mercer’s first taste of playoff hockey at the NHL level, and he performed well despite the intense pace and physicality.

Mercer has now played in 172 consecutive games since making his NHL debut last season. It’s an impressive ironman streak for a 21-year-old who first turned heads at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts.

Bo Bennett describes Mercer as the toughest player in the Devils’ lineup.

“He loses teeth. He goes and plays, he gets ran over, he gets back up, he bounces off hits. He’s not afraid of anybody,” he said.

Few are prouder of Mercer’s success than the Bennetts, who travelled to New Jersey to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Devils-Rangers series.

“It was a very emotional time for me,” said Bo Bennett, referring to the volcanic energy at the Prudential Center — the home arena of the Devils in Newark, N.J.

“My dream was never to make the NHL. My dream was to be able to put someone or some people there.”

Zach Bennett is amazed, but not necessarily surprised, by what his cousin has so far accomplished.

“He’s a top-six guy; second round of the playoffs in the NHL. What is that? 0.00001 per cent? It’s unbelievable,” he said.

And Mercer is one of the nicest, most focused and steady people you’ll ever meet, he added.

“The sky’s the limit for that dude. Have you ever met a Dawson Mercer hater? They don’t exist because you can’t not like this kid,” said Zach Bennett.

Meanwhile, while Mercer is now playoff tested, he’s still a long way from lifting the Stanley Cup. While they have the offensive firepower, they’re still missing a little something on defence, said Bo Bennett, and may not yet be ready to go all the way.

Bennett hopes he’s wrong, though.

“If they bring their speed game, they can go all the way,” said Bo Bennett.

Whenever these playoffs end for Mercer and the Devils, however, Mercer will have a familiar place to work out, and the Bennetts will welcome him with open arms into the torture chamber.
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