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Berisha making smooth transition in switch to defence for UPEI

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The experiment has paid off for Beni Berisha and the UPEI Panthers.

Looking to add depth to an inexperienced blue-line, the men’s hockey coaches started considering the possibility of trying a forward or two as a defenceman during the exhibition schedule. It was meant as a contingency plan in case the team ran into injuries during the season.

“Before you know it, Beni’s names was thrown out there,” head coach Forbes MacPherson explained. “He has a lot of intangibles that we thought could provide an opportunity for him to transition into a defenceman.”

MacPherson asked Berisha if he had ever played on the blue-line, and the Mississauga, Ont., native said he had in his first year of midget and on the point during power plays growing up. MacPherson told Berisha he was one of the Panthers best skaters and thought he might be able to help the team on the backend.

“A couple of days later I came to the rink and there was a black jersey in my stall,” Berisha explained.

From then on he has practised and played as a defenceman.

“I’ve started to get pretty comfortable back there,” Berisha said. “I think I’ve been able to, so far, transition pretty well, and I’ve definitely leaned on my full-time defence partners.”

He rhymed off his statistics during an interview Wednesday, leading with the +6 and a couple of points while not being scored on during five-on-five play.

Berisha has passed the early season audition with flying colours.

“He jumped back there and he’s actually been very good, and we’re super excited for him,” MacPherson said. “He’s more than proven to be somebody who can just fill in – he can play.”

Berisha is far from the first forward to shift to defence.

One of the best examples would be the San Jose Sharks Brent Burns, while Cole MacMillan was a forward for the Panthers a couple of years ago, but sometimes would shift back to the blue-line.

“From a fan’s perspective, he’s going to be very fun to watch,” MacPherson said of Berisha. “He plays with ton of energy; plays with a ton of enthusiasm. He’s always getting involved.”

RELATED: Click here for the initial story of Berisha joining the Panthers.

Berisha is enjoying the switch and is always trying to learn and refine his game.

“There’s only six defencemen, so my ice time over the pre-season has been pretty high,” he said. “Any player that can play multiple positions on a team, a coach is definitely going to be keen on.”

MacPherson said Berisha is a bit of a rallying point for his club.

“The guys know the sacrifice he’s making and the way he plays. I know, for sure, he has at least 24, 25 fans and that's his teammates in the room.”

Need to know

Getting to know Beni Berisha

Who – A third-year member of the UPEI Panthers men’s hockey team.

Hometown – Mississauga, Ont.

Size – Five-foot-nine and a half and 176 pounds.

Age – 25.

Studying – Business administration.

Position – Forward but playing defence this year.

Berisha said: “Over the first six pre-season games, I was able to kind of use the extra time and space a defenceman typically has to, I guess, mask the fact that I’m a forward playing defence.”

Did you know – Berisha won gold with Team Canada this summer in the Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event. His brother, Aaron, who plays for Saint Mary’s, was also on the squad.

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