He may have been the 173rd overall choice in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection, but if you ask the Kitchener Rangers, there’s few they’d rather chose as a teammate than Jake Henderson.
The 20-year-old, St. Louis, MO native is now in his third season on East Avenue, which will also serve as his last season of junior hockey. At 6’3” and 209lbs, the overager brings an imposing, physical presence but it’s what he brings off the ice that makes him such an exceptional piece of this Rangers’ squad.
Sometimes you see him sport his glasses. From time to time – like last season’s headshot – boasting a massive, curled coif. But one thing he always seems to wear: a giant grin.
That positive attitude has proven to be an invaluable, intangible asset. But if you ask ‘Hendo’, it’s just what comes naturally to him.
“I’ve been around for five years now,” said Henderson, who skated with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL before joining the Blueshirts prior to the 2015-16 season. “I’ve played with older guys that had a bit of a mean streak, and guys that have had the nicer mentality. As a younger guy I always appreciated when the older guys were welcoming to me, and that’s what I’m going for now.”
Not only a player favourite but a fan favourite as well, Henderson’s impact on his teammates was felt even before he embarked on his overage season, being named the recipient of the Most Popular Player Award as voted on by the team. His ability to lend a friendly ear, or to keep things light in the room or on the bench, is something the veteran set out to ensure he could be counted on for.
“When younger guys come in it can be pretty nerve-wracking; living with a new family and playing with new teammates. At that age a lot of guys aren’t used to being away from home for so long, so I know it can help to have respect and feel like a part of the team from that early stage.
“It just gives guys the ability to relax, when you’re happy.”
With that aforementioned smile, it’s easy to see that Henderson is one happy guy. And why wouldn’t he be, especially with his final Ontario Hockey League campaign off to a solid start – four goals and 10 points in his first 13 games – including the game winner on the road against the Windsor Spitfires for his first goal of the season.
“I remember my first year. It feels like a pretty long time ago, but also feels like a short time ago, too,” he remembered. “All of us older guys, I think we can each say that all our years of junior have been fun and we’re happy to have experienced all the good times we have, developing as players and making great friendships.”
When you’re as outgoing as Henderson, you meet lots of people. And it’s not hard to see where he gets the outgoingness from, as his family might be the most interactive, supportive and intense group of hockey-crazed, Jake-loving people you’d be lucky enough to meet.
And it’s likely you either have, or will, meet them; they tend to travel by the busload giving nothing but support to not only Henderson, but all of his teammates.
That support has meant the world to him.
“They’ve supported me all my life,” he said of his immediate family and relatives, affectionately known as the ‘Brendle Brigade’ or the ‘Hendo Fan Club’.
“Usually about 50 family members travel each year, so it’s nice having them around. Especially on the road, I know the boys like having our own cheering section in an away rink,” he added. “They’re aiming to pack two busses this year, so hopefully that happens and hopefully we can get them some wins like we did last year.”
Regardless of the number of family who come to visit, two things can be absolutely guaranteed; the Hendo Fan Club will be loud, and Jake will be smiling.
The next Kitchener Rangers SPOTLIGHT will feature defenceman and Ajax, ON native, Kyle Gentles.