Just 25 years of age, J.T. Henke has moved on from being a standout Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association center with the Lake Superior State Lakers to become a first-year assistant coach with the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Hockey League.
And while he misses playing hockey — he spent parts of two seasons in the minor pro ranks after being a scoring leader at Lake Superior State from 2015 though 2018 — Henke said he is “loving” the transition to the coaching ranks.
A Metro Detroit product, Henke also said he is “loving” life up north in the Upper Peninsula town of Sault Ste. Marie.
“Oh ya, I love it up here,” Henke relayed while appearing on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show on Sault Ste. Marie radio station ESPN 1400. “I am an outdoors guy, I like hunting and fishing, so the Soo is a great place for me to be.”
Having lived in the Soo for three years while playing for the hockey Lakers — he netted 29 goals, 50 assists, 79 points in 109 games while skating for a lowly Lake Superior State team that had three straight losing seasons during that time — being back in his adopted home town as an assistant coach with the Eagles is much to Henke’s liking.
“I had opportunities to keep playing pro hockey but I wanted to get into coaching so when (second-year Eagles head coach) Doug Laprade asked me to come on board as an assistant this season, I was all for it,” said Henke. “The Eagles are a class organization from (president and general manager) Bruno (Bragagnolo) on down and I am learning a lot about coaching from Doug (Laprade.)
“And the NOJHL is a great junior league. I watched a lot of Eagles games when I was playing for the Lakers and the caliber of play in the NOJHL just keeps on getting better,” Henke added.
Before arriving at Lake Superior State in 2015, Henke also played a season of Division 1, NCAA hockey at the University of Maine. And he also played at the junior level in the United States Hockey League and the Eastern Jr. Hockey League.
A criminal justice major while at Lake Superior State, Henke had the chance to play in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights after deciding to leave the University of Maine.
“I talked to (London head coach) Dale Hunter a few times but I thought it was best that I stay in school. So I transferred to Lake State,” Henke noted.
As he assists the Eagles in what he calls “a tough and really competitive” West Division of the NOJHL, Henke has another focus, as he and his soon-to-be-wife are parents of a young baby.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be a father,” smiled the personable, talkative Henke.
Henke is looking forward to the stretch run of the NOJHL regular season, which for the Eagles — who are in a battle with the cross-border Soo Thunderbirds for third and fourth spots in the West Division — ends at the end of February.
“It’s like every game is a playoff game right now,” offered Henke. “It’s so intense and so exciting to be a part of.”
As for the aforementioned GM of the Eagles, Bruno Bragagnolo, the veteran boss of the Michigan Soo squad has a lot of good to say about Henke.
“He played the game at the D1 and pro levels and he is a smart guy who knows what he is doing and what he is talking about,” Bragagnolo said of Henke. “When Doug (Laprade) asked me about bringing J.T. on as an assistant coach, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. For sure, J.T. adds a lot to our coaching staff and the players really like what he brings to our team.”
PHOTO: J.T. Henke, taking a face off during his college hockey playing days with the Lake Superior State Lakers.