Look closely enough, and you can spot a few parallels between Jordan Henry’s style of play and his social media persona.
On the ice, the Abbotsford Heat defenceman plays with flair – he prides himself on his two-way play, but he not only loves to carry the puck, he’ll sometimes follow it deep into the offensive zone.
On Twitter, Henry is a similarly conspicuous presence, engaging fans on a regular basis via his @jhank86 handle. During his extended training camp stay with the NHL parent Calgary Flames this fall, his gregarious personality made him an instant fan favourite.
Bottom line: the man is entertaining to watch, whether in cyberspace or on the ice.
“I decided to get on Twitter this summer and see what it was about,” explained Henry, who recently crested 1,000 followers. “It’s a good way for players to interact with fans – they get to see what life is like for hockey players in the day-to-day.
“I enjoy throwing things out there – interesting stuff I see, things like that. I try to keep it light, not too serious.”
Henry’s easygoing approach has served him well as he’s traveled an unconventional path to the brink of NHL employment. The High River, Alta. native was undrafted coming out of junior hockey with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, but he made the most of a rookie camp invitation from the Florida Panthers in 2007 and landed a three-year contract.
Over three seasons with the Rochester Americans, Florida’s AHL affiliate, Henry developed into a solid pro. In 2009-10, he showcased an impressive combination of skill and grit, posting 31 points and 104 penalty minutes in 76 games, to go with a +22 rating.
Henry failed to come to terms with the Panthers as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2010, so he headed off to Russia, where he spent last season with the Kontinental Hockey League’s Minsk Dynamo.
“I’d never been over there before, and it was definitely a culture shock at the start,” he said. “But once I got adapted to it and started picking up the day-to-day stuff, it actually worked out pretty well.
“They play on the bigger ice surface there, and it’s a lot different style of play. It’s a lot less physical – they’re more about puck possession than playing bang-and-crash, like it is over here sometimes. But it definitely helped my game as far as skating mobility, and being able to make plays handling the puck.”
The KHL has become synonymous with hockey tragedy over the past couple months, owning to the devastating plane crash involving the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team on Sept. 7. The crash claimed 44 lives, including several former NHL players like Pavol Demitra, Alexander Karpovtsev, Ruslan Salei and Josef Vasicek.
After spending last year in the KHL, Henry said the incident “hit close to home.”
“They were flying to play the team I was playing for last year,” he noted. “It could have easily been some of my former teammates flying the other way (that it happened to).
“It was pretty tragic, not just for that league, but for hockey in general.”
As much as he appreciated his time in Russia, Henry’s goal is to play in the NHL, and he knew he needed to re-establish himself in North America. The Flames acquired his rights from Florida in a trade for ex-Heat defenceman Keith Seabrook in July, and Henry made quite the impression in training camp – he made a strong push for a roster spot, and was the last player sent down to Abbotsford prior to the regular season.
“It’s been kind of a bumpy road – not like the path of a first-rounder, where opportunities are going to be there consistently,” the 25-year-old said, reflecting on his journey in pro hockey. “But I’ve just tried to keep working hard and keep developing my game. Eventually, if you’re good enough, they can’t ignore the fact that you’re ready to play.”
Heat head coach Troy Ward pointed out that the growth curve for offensive-minded blueliners like Henry and teammate T.J. Brodie often has to do with knowing when to play defence and when to play offence. But at the same time, Ward loves what Henry brings to the table, skill-wise.
“He intrigues me,” Ward said of Henry. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig and want to kiss it, you know what I’m saying? But this particular guy, he gets you excited about what he has the ability to do.
“He has the ability to do some really great things for our hockey team. I’m excited to work with him and learn more about him.”