Playing for the high-octane Osoyoos Coyotes, Jack Henderson is also the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s most lethal offensive threat.
He came into the 2021-22 season with the confidence knowing he would be one of the top players in the league and wanted to be among the best in points. Heading into this weekend’s action, Henderson has 27 goals (second in the KIJHL), 31 assists (also second) giving him 58 points (first overall), in 37 games, five ahead of rookie Kayde Kinaschuk of the Columbia Valley Rockies. He is currently enjoying a league high 20-game point scoring streak with 16 goals and 29 points.
The Quesnel native has one hat-trick this season and five multi-goal performances.
“It’s always nice to score goals. It’s definitely my favourite part of playing,” said Henderson.
His favourite NHL player is Auston Matthews, who he tries to play like, but says “obviously we’re quite far apart.”
That still leaves open celebrating goals like the Toronto Maple Leafs superstar.
Many factors contribute to Henderson’s success. At 19, he has matured and grown physically stronger from his rookie year in the KIJHL with Osoyoos at five-foot-nine, 145 pounds in 2019-20. He’s now five-foot-11, 175 pounds and that strength has helped him skate faster and let off a harder shot.
He credited Coyotes Head Coach Carter Rigby for running great practices that include skill development work with skills coach Colin Minardi of Incubator Hockey. Minardi, who played in the KIJHL for Grand Forks, North Okanagan and Summerland, works with Coyote players once a week.
“I feel that helps me a bit too with puck control and skating,” said Henderson.
Personally and on a team level, the season has been great and Henderson praised Rigby for the roster he has assembled.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play with some really good players. Things have just been clicking from the beginning for me personally and as a group,” said Henderson, who has chemistry with Alex Ochitwa (29 points in 18 games) and Ethan McKinley (40 points in 31 games).
Those linemates he said are, “really talented players, throwing up really impressive numbers themselves.”
“It helps when you play with guys like that,” said Henderson.
Coming into the season, he wanted to be a player that Rigby could count on at all times.
“For him to do that, he needs to know he can trust me in the defensive zone, whether it’s taking a faceoff with a couple minutes left, in our D-zone or killing penalties, which I started doing this year. I have never done that,” he said. “I wanted to play more and help the team win as much as possible. If it’s buckling down defensively, I’m willing to do that.”
In a KIJHL Notebook, Rigby heaped praise on Henderson.
“He is playing a lot more engaged, creating chances because he’s moving his feet, playing the body,” said Rigby. “He is caring about the defensive game a lot more than he has in the past. When you work, want the puck, good things are going to happen. He has got a great skill set around him as well with good hands, skates well and a good shot.”
Henderson has also improved from time spent in the B.C. Hockey League with the Merritt Centennials. He was with the BCHL club for four months before the Pod Season, choosing to work instead of playing in the bubble. He has played four games as an affiliate player this season, recording his first point, an assist on Feb. 4, then scoring his first goal on Feb 8.
“I’m thankful for every opportunity I can get to go up there and play,” he said. “It’s definitely a cool experience and has helped my confidence. I feel as though I play at a higher pace when I return and feel better about how I’m playing.
“I feel like being up at a higher level helps you make decisions faster, everything is a little quicker,” he continued. “You have to get used to making plays faster and I feel like a big part of my game is my hockey IQ and using my vision. That sharpened being at the higher level.”
As Henderson has a great season, he also sees the Coyotes have a shot at winning the Teck Cup Championship.
“I think everybody kind of realized that we have a special group and an opportunity to maybe win the entire thing here,” he said. “I have been focusing on trying to help my team win at this level.”