The nervousness and jitters from his first NHL rookie camp a season ago were gone, and soaking up all the information the Blue Jackets fed him was a lot easier.
“Going in I felt way more confident the second time through,” Heatherington said as he reflected on his second summer within the Blue Jackets organization. “You can really soak in a lot more information because you’re not as worried about the little things and you know what to expect.”
And with that confidence came a stronger leadership role as he bonded with his future Blue Jackets teammates.
“Coming in the first year, there’s guys two and three years older that kind of show you the ropes,” Heatherington said. “With those guys not coming back this year, I definitely had a stronger leadership role than I did the previous year.”
Now in his fourth season with the Swift Current Broncos, the six-foot-four defender has carried that leadership role into the Broncos’ dressing room where Heatherington is serving for a second year as the team’s alternate captain.
“With it being my second year as an alternate captain, I’m definitely more confident within a leadership role and I’ve been able to take on more responsibility throughout the team.”
“If words need to be said in the locker room I’ll say them, but I try to lead by example because that is what great leaders do,” he said. “If you’re not doing the things yourself, you can’t really tell others to do them.”
“Growing up, those two guys played a huge part in developing me, so I just want to pass that down to our younger guys.”
Leadership skills aside, Heatherington’s strong character, work ethic and steady defensive play this season once again earned him a spot on Team WHL for the Subway Super Series.
“It’s always fun and interesting playing against the Russians,” Heatherington said. “The level of competition goes through the roof, so you have to be on you’re “A” game to make sure you succeed.”
And while some would feel more pressure with the Series serving as a tryout of sorts for Canada’s World Junior team, Heatherington doesn’t feel that way about the games.
“I wouldn’t say there’s added pressure, but you definitely have to be more diligent with what you’re doing because there’s more eyes watching you play.”
In order to make Team Canada’s World Junior Championship squad, Heatherington feels his best chance is to stay within his game and put in an honest effort every night.
“If I’m fortunate enough to make that team it would be a huge honor to represent my nation.”
And the experience Heatherington has gained this past summer at the Blue Jackets and Team Canada camps hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
Broncos captain Colby Cave, who has played alongside Heatherington for the past four seasons, noticed a bit of change in his teammate this season.
“What he learned at those camps, he brought that experience back to our team,” Cave said. “It’s huge for a guy to be given that kind of exposure at those camps and then bring it back to our team.”
“He’s a leader for a reason and the things that he brings back from those camps is important.”
One story Cave shared that characterizes Heatherington as a player and a person is when he blocked a shot with his head while the Broncos were handily winning a lopsided game.
“We got down on a 5-on-3 with five minutes left in the third period and he goes down to block a shot and he blocks it with his head,” recounted Cave. “We were all like, holy smokes, it’s 7-2 and the guy is blocking shots with his head. He came into the dressing room after and he treated it like nothing happened. That’s just his game. No matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, he just goes out and gives it 110 per cent every time.”
Broncos first-year associate coach Josh Dixon has also taken note of Heatherington’s professional demeanor.
“He’s the type of player that continually strives to get better by spending the time in the gym and on the ice,” Dixon said. “He comes in to watch video and he’s always looking to discuss his game, which is why he’s an impact player at this level.”
“Dillon is the same type of leader as Mark Giordano in Calgary,” said Dixon. “He’s a tough player to play against. He competes every night and shows leadership by his actions. And he’s a consistent, honest player.”
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