Four years goes by quick. Just ask Jordan Henderson, whose junior career saw him play 232 games in four cities and two countries. A three-year career in the Western Hockey League began in Spokane, Washington before stops in Saskatoon and Medicine Hat, before joining the Vees in November.
“Coming into the locker room at 16 years old, you think juniors is going to be a long time,” Henderson said. “I never thought I would see that day (when it was over). But then you realize ‘wow that was really fast.’ Eventually it had to end at some point and I was really proud of myself and my four years of junior hockey.”
After being traded to the Kootenay Ice last August, Henderson was told he wouldn’t make the cut for one of the three 20-year-old spots a WHL team has available. He was released and free to sign where he pleased, which happened to be Penticton.
“My agent really helped me out a lot,” Henderson said. “He helped me get to Penticton and it turned out to be a really good fit for me. (The Vees) said I’d play a big role on the team, which was something I really wanted to do for my final year in junior hockey.”
That’s exactly what he did, as Henderson was slotted on to the Vees top defensive pairing with Jonny Tychonick right from day one. He and Tychonick would average nearly 30 minutes of ice time a game for the remainder of the season, while Henderson enjoyed a solid offensive showing with four goals and 14 assists in 40 games.
The first BCHL game Henderson skated in was at home against the Vernon Vipers before a rematch the very next night. Jumping into a top-tier rivalry like that helped set the tone for Henderson in the BCHL.
“I really didn’t know what to expect coming to Penticton,” he said. “Those first two games were really high tempo and fast. There was a good battle and compete level from both teams.”
Away from the rink, the surrounding area of Penticton is hard to ignore for any new player to the South Okanagan. The landscape Penticton boasts is one few other teams can match, which is something that didn’t go unnoticed upon Henderson’s arrival.
“I just thought it was really beautiful,” he said. “I had been there a couple times before but I didn’t really get to look around the whole city. Just being around the community was really awesome, especially with the fans. The facility was top notch, you don’t see that in some of the WHL facilities so overall it was amazing.”
Being a presence in the community is something the Vees take a lot of pride in, and one of Henderson’s first days as a Vee saw him collecting donations for the South Okanagan Women’s In Need Society at the Tim Horton’s drive thru. Henderson said getting that early showing of the community support in Penticton was eye opening.
“The Vees are a class-act organization,” Henderson said. “Doing things like that really helps out the community and puts a good name for them in the city. The fans are phenomenal, there was never a game that I thought we had a bad crowd. We always had great crowds and they were always on our side. It was something great to see playing for Penticton.”
On the ice, jumping into a major role on the team made things for enjoyable for Henderson for his final year of junior hockey, and playing alongside a top prospect for the NHL draft in Tychonick was an experience Henderson thinks neither of them will forget.
“As my years went on in the WHL my role increased, during my last year in Medicine Hat I was playing on the top defensive pairing,” Henderson said. “I learned a lot from the captain there, Clayton Kirichenko, and I brought those things with me to Penticton. Jonny’s work ethic is top notch. He’s always the guy who goes out on the ice early to shoot on the goalies, he’s loud on the ice and bench during games. Away from the rink he takes care of his body and he always wants to get better. He’s growing up to be a pro and he’s learning what it takes to be successful at the next level. I learned a lot from playing with him and I think he learned a lot from me as well.”
Having played on a number of different teams over his four years in junior, Henderson met a lot of new faces and made a lot of life long friends. The group in Penticton will always stand out to him he says, and it didn’t take long to settle in.
“Right from day one when I walked into that locker room I noticed us getting tighter and tighter every day,” Henderson said. “We all battled for each other and stuck up for each other in big moments like in Salmon Arm when Adam Scheel went down. Kenny Johnson stepped up like he always did and he had other guys always stepping up throughout the season.”
As disappointing as it was to have his junior career end, Henderson knew it would happen eventually and now turns his focus to life after junior hockey. While he plans on taking things relatively easy over the summer, aside from focusing on working out, he already knows where he’ll be come the beginning of next hockey season.
“I think what I’m most interested in doing is going to the University of Calgary and taking advantage of my WHL education package for the next four years,” Henderson revealed. “I’ve always liked playing away from home. It gives you a chance to meet new people, seeing new places and offers less distractions than playing at home.”
Time will tell if Henderson’s four years in Calgary go by as fast as his four years in junior hockey.