Oilers Henley Giant set to return

By Guy Flaming





The Henley Giant

Standing just shy of 7’ tall in his size 12 skates, the term
‘giant’ certainly is an appropriate one for Road Runner defenseman Brent
Henley. The 24-year-old originally from
Trail, B.C. is enjoying his second year as a member of the Edmonton
organization despite his recent knee injury.
His now 18-month association with the Oilers represents the longest
period of time he’s spent with one organization since, well, since just about
ever.

 

This is my second
year with Edmonton and it’s the longest I’ve been with any
organization!” Henley said on the opening day of training camp. “It’s the most stability I’ve had since I
was about 19. It’s nice to have people
knowing my name, the trainers and a lot of the guys know me, and it’s nice to
come into somewhere that is familiar.”

 

After splitting two WHL seasons between Prince George, Swift
Current and Saskatoon, Henley spent 2000-01 with Langley of the BCHL. A year later the 6’7 245lb blueliner began
his pro career with both Jackson of the ECHL and Colorado of the WCHL. After the season, both teams disappeared.

 

“What’s funny is that I had a tendency to go to a team,
leave, and then it would fold,” laughed Henley. “Jackson folded, then Colorado folded too.”

 

For the 2002-03 campaign Henley saw ice time with three
completely new clubs. Over the course
of the season Henley played in four AHL contests, three with Lowell and a
single night for the Rochester Americans.
Most of the year, however, was spent as a member of the South Carolina
Stingrays where Henley played 50 games and totaled 12 points.

 

“I’ve been to places where it’s been a battle; you might be
playing in front of a thousand people and no one even has a clue of who you are
but I felt pretty blessed to be in South Carolina,” Henley told Hockey’s Future. “The team was big, we were the only show in
town so on Friday and Saturday nights people came to see the Stingrays play.
Being based out of Charleston, they actually run it like it is a hockey
hotbed.”

 

It was in South Carolina that he caught the eye of the
Oilers.

 

We sent Morey Gare
down to watch him play and he came back and said ‘He’s rough but he sure is
tough’ and he came recommended highly by his coach Jason Fitzsimmons who was a
player we had in Cape Breton some years ago,” said Kevin Prendergast,
Edmonton’s chief scout and VP of Hockey Operations. “We put him on our list at that point and signed him over the
course of the summer.”

 

That was in August
of 2003 and over the course of 2003-04, Henley would play a dozen games with
the Toronto Roadrunners and 49 more with the Stingrays.

 

A quick glimpse at
his stat sheet by someone who has not seen him play or talked to him off the
ice might give a person the impression that Brent Henley is a mindless
goon. His penalty minute totals simply
can’t be ignored and they’re something Henley himself knows very well.

 

I’m over 600
minutes now for the last two years and I’m close to 900 minutes for my first
three years (as a pro),” bragged Henley.
“You know what though, if you look at the penalties, I have a load of
tens and that stems from me being frustrated with being in the ECHL and the
quality of officials there.”

 

According to Henley, anyone who thinks the referees in the
NHL need glasses clearly hasn’t seen their ECHL counterparts.

 

“I’d get a penalty just for being bigger than everybody; I
honestly got some bad penalties,” Henley insisted. “There were a lot of bad refs that I could name, I won’t,
but I could.”

 

“Last year I had 40 minutes in 12 games but 30 of them were
majors so I only had five minors and I only have two this year. You can still play tough and not take
minors, like Rocky (Thompson), he doesn’t take a lot of minors. You earn your minutes by getting majors and
the odd instigator; those are the good penalties. I had 50 minors in the ECHL and honestly half of them were
terrible, terrible calls. Not
only is the level of play better in the AHL but also so is the level of
officiating.”

 

In his brief time with the Roadrunners, coach Geoff Ward
took notice of him and liked what he saw.

 

We liked a lot of
things about him in Toronto,” Ward began.
“We called him the ‘Poor Man’s Chara’.
He came in and fought all the heavyweights in every city and he’s also
got some game to him.”

 

“In Manitoba he
played an awful lot of minutes for us in our top three, he was lugging the puck
up the ice, good and strong down low,” the bench boss continued. “This is a guy we feel has a tremendous
amount of potential and he teased us enough last year with flashes of what he
has in his skill set that we’re anxious to see if he can take that next step
and indications are that he can. He’s a
big durable guy and he makes it tough for the opposition to get to the
net. He could be a real dark horse for
us this year.”

 

Henley’s wingspan makes him very tough to beat one-on-one
and obviously he’s a physical threat whenever he’s on the ice. In his own words, the blueliner feels he has
a lot to offer the Edmonton Road Runners this year.

 

“I think I can be a defenseman that you can put on the ice
against the other team’s good players and I don’t think I’m a liability,” he
said. “I think I can play against
anybody and not have the coaching staff worry but at the same token, you have
to earn the right to play against those guys. I think that will come slowly.
Joe has put a lot of faith in me and put me out there during
four-on-fours and also overtime and I think I’ve held my own.”

 

Unfortunately for Henley, an awkward collision at his own
blueline resulted in a wonky knee that has kept him sidelined ever since. At first look, few saw how the injury
happened, but when the replay was shown inside Rexall Place moments later, the
crowd reaction was enough to confirm the severity of the scene for Henley.

 

“I’m not watching it, I
haven’t seen it and I don’t know if I ever want to see it,” Henley
quickly said. “I can judge just by the
groan it got from the crowd and just the way every member of the coaching staff
and the team stuck their head into the training room saying ‘man, are you going
to be alright?’ I take that to mean it
looked pretty serious so I feel good that I’m just walking going by the
reaction it got.”

 

Henley has been skating for the
past couple of weeks with other injured members of the Road Runners like J.J.
Hunter but also Oiler forward Marty Reasoner.

 

“I don’t ever want to see stuff
where I get hurt because it will just creep into your head,” said Henley. “I’ve talked to guys like Marty, he watched
his (injury replay) but it took him a long time to be able to do it.”

 

The meniscus contusion suffered by
his knee joint has healed enough that Henley feels he is more than ready to
play again.

 

“I probably would have played at
the end of this road trip but there’s no need while we have seven healthy
defensemen,” he said. “Financially to
fly me there doesn’t make sense, but also the guys are playing well so they’re
not going to mess with that. From my
perspective that sucks but the team is winning so you can’t complain. I’m taking this time to work out, I’ve lost
a couple pounds and I have abs now!”

 

Also skating with Henley recently
is newly signed Finnish prospect Jesse Niinimaki. Who better to ask about a forward’s skill than a bruising
defender like Henley?

 

“That kid’s got skill! He’s just a pure skilled hockey player and I
think he’s going to do very well,” Henley praised. “With his experience in the Finnish League, which is pretty much
on par with the AHL, I don’t think he’ll have trouble at all and I definitely
see him being an NHL player.”

 

What about the recent criticisms
of Niinimaki’s lack of muscle on his 6’3 frame?

 

“He looks 180 but all the rides
and stuff that we’re doing, he’s doing upwards of 195 watts which is equivalent
to 200 lbs,” countered Henley. “He’s
really strong on his skates and you can’t play that well in that league and be weak. He’s strong he’s just thin.”

 

Away from the rink, the Henley
Giant partakes in the usual offseason hockey player activities like golf, but
prefers other modes of exercise on most days.

 

“Everything comes back to being an
athlete; I like hiking and I golf a lot, but everybody who plays hockey plays
golf,” Henley said. “I golf all summer
and go to the gym but that’s almost forced hockey stuff, I enjoy it but if I
have a choice to do anything I just get on my bike and go for a ride.”

 

Being roommates with Mathieu Roy
might create some tense situations one might think but for the most part, the
two defensemen get along extremely well.

 

“It’s a good thing because we’re
both battling for a spot, but we’re good friends so it’s friendly competition,”
said Henley. “Everything we do turns
into a competition from video games to ping pong so we spend a lot of time
together.”

 

At the end of the current season
Henley will be a free agent but there is no question where the undrafted
prospect wants to play in 2005-06.

 

“This is definitely a place where
I’ve comparatively found a home but it could only be a two-year run so who
knows?” Henley shrugged. “I haven’t
signed a four-year deal or anything, the two-year deal was nice but theoretically
it could be done after this year. I
don’t want it to be, I want to stay.
If I’m staying in one place it means I’m doing well so I’d love to stay
here. They’ve invested a fair amount of
time in me from power skating and training so I hope they have the same plans
as I do and that I can stay here.”

 

But what if staying in the Oiler
organization meant being a career minor league player? After all, the blueline might be the
position most populated by talented prospects in the system at the present
time.

 

“Well, if you look at it like
that… yes I want to be here but if there were an opportunity to play (in the
NHL) then obviously I would take that opportunity to do that,” he
admitted. “I would like to stay here at
any level but I’m not going to set my career back.”

 

In his short time in Edmonton,
Henley has quickly become a favorite of fans and also for anyone in the media
needing a witty quote at just the right time.

 

Henley Quotes

 

This year is different; I earned myself an AHL deal as opposed to
an ECHL one like last year. I think I
have a better shot of staying up this year, I feel I should be in the
AHL all year but that’s not my decision.
I just have to work as hard as I can but they make the decisions,
although…I’d like to make it an easy one for them.”

         
Henley during
training camp.

 

“I like to get the
boys going, everyone was kind of dragging their ass this morning. This is a big game, I don’t know if a lot of
guys realize that yet, but I’m sure they will by the time the puck drops. This could be the only time they put on that
jersey so they’d better make the most of it.”

         
During the
morning skate prior to the rookie game against Calgary this fall. Henley could be clearly heard from the
stands “spurring on” the other camp participants during a lackluster practice.

 

“Prepare yourself
to play in the AHL, that’s what I’m doing and that’s the only way you can
stay. If you prepare yourself for ‘the
Coast’, you’re going to ‘the Coast’.”

         
His advice to
pro rookies.

 

“Stiff, but I’m
going to be ready; I flew in here to play a game…I’ve got some good drugs man!”

         
Henley
fighting off back spasms in order to suit up as captain against the Flames.

 

“It lasted until
the end of the second period and then I was in a lot of pain. By the end of the game I couldn’t really
contribute anymore but I’m glad that I got most of the game in. I’ll take pain like that any day for that
jersey.”

         
About his back
after the same game.

 

“That’s the best
jersey I’ve ever put on in my life. I
know it’s just an exhibition game in a rookie camp, but putting it on was
unbelievable. Looking at the line of
guys who have had that crest with the C on it, there’s no way to describe it
better than ‘total honor’.”

         
About being
the captain.

 

“He asked me to
fight and I’ve been in that position before so you go out there, get it over
with and try to play the game. I give
him full credit for trying but…he’s got a couple years to go.”

         
After
demolishing Brandon Prust in the rookie game.

 

“He had ample
opportunity, he was the guy I was looking for but in his first three or
four shifts we were lined up against each other and he wouldn’t say a
word. He wouldn’t even come into my
corner when we were on the same side of the ice! Then when I’m not looking and after I’d already had the other
fight, you’re gone after your second one and the coaches told me to stay in the
game, he jumps me from behind. I think
that pretty much says what kind of player he is.”

         
On Calgary
“tough guy” Thomas Bellemare.

 

Yeah, I get
around.”

         
On his frequent movement from teams over the last three
or four years.

 

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