By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
It’s been a dream start to his junior career for Portage la Prairie product and MJHL alumni Nick Henry.
Last season as a 16-year-old, Henry was named the top rookie in the MJHL rookie following a stellar season with his hometown Terriers. He helped them to their second straight league championship, and then came oh so close to playing in the RBC Cup – the national championship for junior A hockey.
Henry made the move to the WHL’s Regina Pats this fall, and success has continued to follow him – both on a personal and team level.
The 6’0, 190-pound winger is currently the second-leading rookie scorer in the Western Hockey League – scoring more than a point a game – while the Pats are the top seed in the Eastern Division and are a strong contender for the league championship.
Talk about a dream start to junior hockey.
Coming out of training camp Henry had the smallest of windows to prove he could not only play at the major junior level, but excel. He made the most of that opportunity – and then some.
“Starting this year off, it was a tough decision for my family to come here (to Regina), but when I did come there were a lot of players away at NHL camps, and that kind of gave myself and some other young guys the opportunity to step in and play big minutes for the first four games,” he said. “I was able to jump on a line with Sam Steel and Dawson Leedahl and we clicked.
“Sam is signed in the NHL (with the Anaheim Ducks) and he’s a really special player to play with, and watching him play every game and he the way he works is a really neat experience, and I want to get to where he is,” added Henry.
Playing on two dominant teams in back-to-back seasons has provided Henry a window to showcase his skills. And though young in age, he’s mature enough to realize having a legitimate chance at winning a championship in back-to-back years is unique opportunity.
“I’m really lucky to play on a team like this,” he said. “Even last year (with the Portage Terriers), after winning the RBC Cup the year before, they were not expected to do as much, but Blake (Spiller, Terriers head coach) was able to put together another strong team like he always does and we were able to win it and come one win away from the RBC Cup.
“And this year in Regina we have a lot of special players, and made some good deals to make us better for this year and next year, and it’s really exciting to be a part of.”
Reached on a Monday afternoon hitting the books for his high school classes, Henry noted he feels his success this year in the WHL is due in part to his being able to play junior A hockey in the MJHL as a 16-year-old rookie.
“The WHL is really built for 17, 18 and 19-year-old players, and a few 20-year-olds” said Henry. “Being a 16-year-old playing in the MJHL still offered me really good competition, and the ability to play with really good players, and I think it prepared me by showing me what junior hockey is like. The WHL is a different league than the MJHL, but the MJHL was still a great league to play in.
“Blake (Spiller) was a really good coach and he taught me to be a good player, and I have to give him a lot of credit for that.”
With 21 goals and 47 points in his first 41 games Henry is building himself quite the resume. His mid-term NHL draft ranking is 25th overall for North American players.
“It is great to see what Nick is doing in Regina and his success is a testament to his drive and dedication to continually working towards reaching his future goals in hockey,” MJHL Director of Operations Kevin Saurette said.
“He is a great example to younger players in Manitoba and is a great example of how playing in the MJHL for a year or two can benefit younger players and allow them the opportunity to be better prepared for success when making the next step into the WHL.”
And with a long playoff run looming, don’t be too surprised to see his stock continue to rise as his dream of being selected in the NHL likely changes from dream to reality this June.