(This article was originally published on Sept. 22, 2020)
Chilliwack has had some really tough guys over the years with the likes of Brandon Fleenor, Dan Mahe, Tyson Terry, Brad McFaul, and John Craighead. However, only one became captain of the Chiefs and, along with Terry, played five seasons all with the Chiefs.
That player is the Chiefs all-time penalty minute leader Bobby Henderson. Henderson is also one of just five players to play on the Chilliwack teams who participated in the 2000 and 2002 RBC Cup tournament. He is currently the head coach and general manager of the Langley Rivermen.
I caught up with Henderson during his busy time prepping for the 2020-21 season to talk about his time in Chilliwack, his transition to college, and then into coaching back home.
Eric Clarke: You are one of a handful of players to play all five years of junior hockey with one team. What was your experience with the Chilliwack Chiefs?
Bobby Henderson: I’m truly grateful that I had the opportunity to play my five years in Chilliwack. I think all the guys that played in Chilliwack recognized how well we were treated by everyone in the community, ownership as well as our coaching staff.
We truly appreciated the fan support night in and night out and always made sure that we tried to put on a good show win, lose or draw. Looking back, I always felt at home here. I was blessed to meet my wife Mandy, who was born and raised in Chilliwack – while playing here. We were able to reconnect shortly after moving back after college. My whole family ended up moving to Chilliwack and it’s been home for us since.
EC: How have you taken your experiences playing for the Chiefs and applied them in life now?
BH: Playing for Harvey for so many years and having so many great teammates has definitely shaped the way we try to build our team and coach in Langley. First and foremost, is how important to have a team full of players that truly care for their teammates.
The second biggest takeaway is taking pride in your logo and making sure your a positive representation in the community. Like everyone we want to have a well-balanced team, we want to have as much speed and skill in our line up as possible but the biggest thing we are looking for is competitors. Guys who show up every night and lay it on the line.
EC: You are the second player I’ve talked to who played on the Chiefs’ teams that went to the 2000 and 2002 RBC Cup tournaments. What are your fondest memories of both teams? How different or similar were they?
BH: My fondest memories of both teams were just of the great guys we had. I think the two teams were a little different in the fact the 2000 group had a really strong veteran group. We had guys like Travis Banga, Nathan Martz, Jody Lapeyer, Rob Marshall, Wyatt Tunnicliffe, and Ashley Langdon who set the tone for the group. In 2000, I was still really one of the young guys and was happy to be along for the ride.
The 2002 group, we relied a little more on our depth and leaned heavily on some younger guys. I think we had five guys with 99+ points. Like I said though, the one thing both teams had in common though was having great teammates. We had many players that put the team above themselves, which allowed us to be successful.
Players that sometimes flew under the radar like Tyson Terry, Kaleb Betts, Matt Gibbons, Shawn Landry, Brad McFaul, Garett Stroshien, Mark Woywitka, Micah Sanford, Jeff Barlow just to name a few. I could go on and on. It’s not fair to not be able to mention them all individually because everyone played a part. We had so many different pieces to the puzzle on both teams, we could play any way the opposition tried to match us.
EC: You were named captain of the Chiefs in 2002-03. What kind of honour was that?
BH: Wearing the “C” in my 5th and final year was a great honour. The team at that point had established itself as one of the best organizations in the country and it’s something I am very proud of.
I was pretty lucky with that team again, as we had a lot of great character guys who all easily have shouldered the “C”. Tyson Terry, Kevin Broad, Shawn Germain, Brent McIsaac all stepped up and provided great leadership that season and again, that’s just to name a few.
EC: You were one of the tough guys during the early 2000s and finished as the Chiefs all-time penalty minutes leader. Who taught you to fight?
BH: I was a rink rat growing up around my dad’s teams that he worked for and probably picked up a bit from a lot of different guys over the years. I also got to spend a little time with the Van Horlick family on their family ranch where I was able to pick up a few pointers.
John Van Horlick was a tough guy who played in the AHL and WHA and ended up coaching the New West Bruins. His boys Matt and Quinton we’re both tough customers and fought their way through the ranks. I looked up to both Matt and Q and was fortunate to learn a lot of what I know from then.
EC: Did you have any big rivalries with other players?
BH: As far as rivalries, I think my best battles were in practice. I know Tyson mentioned it and it’s true! We had so many tough guys who practiced like they played so it was inevitable to get a little testy. I would have to say Tyson Terry is the guys I locked horns with most though. We pretty well battled from peewee on up and it was the same every day in practice. It takes a great deal of respect to be able to do that and hug it out a couple of minutes later, Tyson certainly has my respect and is one of the best teammates ever.
EC: How was the transition to NCAA Division 1 as a tougher guy from the BCHL?
BH: Obviously fighting isn’t part of the college game, but it’s a battle all week in practice to get in the line up on the weekend, so I think the overall intensity and compete level of the BCHL had me fairly prepared from a mindset perspective. Having said that, playing against 25-year-old men was an eye-opener. Three or four years in the gym makes such a massive difference.
Players are so explosive and forecheck so hard, it took a bit to get comfortable trusting reads. One-on-one battle was also an adjustment. Everyone is so strong in college. You can’t take a size advantage for granted because there are smaller guys who are next to impossible to knock off the puck and can take the body with the best of them.
EC: After your playing days, you went into coaching, starting with the Mission Icebreakers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League in 2010. How much of an influence was Harvey Smyl on your coaching career?
BH: Harvey was a major influence for sure. Harvey’s reputation maybe made him a bit intimidating to guys at first, but he was always approachable. You could go to him with anything, and his door was always open. At the end of the day, the guys knew how much he cared about them.
I think all his former players would tell you the same thing, as much as it was about being a better player, Harvey wanted you to leave Chilliwack a better person. That’s the one thing I appreciated the most and strive for every year with our players.
EC: What’s it like to coach against the team you used to play for and was one of the crowd favorites during your years in Chilliwack?
BH: It’s an interesting experience for sure. We’re all competitive people and there is a lot of pride involved on both sides, everyone always wants to make sure we have a good showing. Having said that, it’s really about the guys on the ice. Our goal is to make sure we give fans an entertaining evening.
EC: What was it like to coach against Harvey Smyl in your first two years with the Rivermen?
BH: Coaching against Harv was a tough thing to do. He’s obviously for a wealth of experience and I had a lot to learn and still do. He’s probably a guy I would have been leaning on looking for some advice if our teams weren’t competing against each other.
EC: Final question, next season is the 20th anniversary of the 2001-02 Chiefs. If the Chiefs honor the team, would you come back to be part of the ceremony even though you now wear Rivermen colours?
BH: Oh man, I can’t believe it’s been twenty years! I took a lot of pride in playing for the Chiefs and my years with the team are some of my favorite memories. I would certainly like to be part of it.
Henderson finished his five years with the Chiefs as the all-time games played leader with 222 and all-time leader in penalty minutes with 772, 116 more than his teammate Tyson Terry. After Chilliwack, Henderson played four years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he finished with five assists and 185 penalty minutes.
After his playing days, he became head coach of the junior B Mission Icebreakers before joining the Rivermen in their inaugural season as an assistant coach. Henderson is now entering his ninth season as general manager and head coach of the Langley Rivermen.
He still resides in Chilliwack with his wife and daughter.