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Ben Henry eager to lead Alpena High hockey program

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena High School hockey coach Ben Henry instructs his players during a drill on Thursday at Northern Lights Arena.

ALPENA — Ben Henry has always had an itch to coach.

So when he was faced with two choices this fall, play hockey overseas or begin his coaching career in his hometown, the choice wasn’t hard.

Henry’s coaching career starts tonight when he leads the Alpena High School hockey team against Berkley-based M-1 United for a two-game series at Northern Lights Arena to open the 2021-22 season.

“I was very excited (when I was offered the job),” Henry said. “It’s awesome to be the head coach of the team I played for years ago and also to stay in my hometown for the first time since I was 15.”

At 28 years old, Henry steps behind the bench tonight as only the fifth coach in Alpena’s history, following Mike Steel, Tony Byers, Chris Limback, and Pete Doubek.

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena High School hockey coach Ben Henry gives instructions to his players during a brief pause in practice on Thursday at Northern Lights Arena. The Wildcats open the season tonight with Henry making his debut behind the bench.

Henry is aware of the program’s history and what his predecessors have accomplished, including the state, regional, and Big North Conference championships. He knows what the program means to the community, having played for the Wildcats for one season under Limback.

But as he embarks on his coaching career, Henry wants to make his own mark, taking what he’s learned in his hockey travels to lead the program.

“The Wildcats are the big dogs in Alpena. I want them to understand that they are, but they also have a role to fill on the ice to keep the fans coming back and watching the games,” Henry said. “They’ve been good, but I want to be more than good.”

When COVID-19 brought him back to Alpena last year, Henry got a chance to coach, serving as an assistant on Alpena’s U14 bantam team. It was enough to whet his coaching appetite that when Limback retired earlier this year, Henry threw his hat in the ring to fill the vacancy.

“I wanted the job because it’s kind of cool to start your coaching career where you started playing hockey,” Henry said. “My career ended this past year and I thought it’d be cool to start over as a coach. This is where I started.”

After spending several years playing overseas in Sweden, including a season with Ockelbo HC in 2020, Henry hopes to bring a blend of American and European-style hockey to Alpena. With a smaller roster, Henry knows the Wildcats need to make smart decisions with the puck and use speed to create scoring chances.

Alpena is coming off a COVID-19 shortened season where it went 5-12-1 and earned a second regional title in four seasons.

“The style of play has changed tremendously, even in the last six to seven years it’s changed a lot,” Henry said. “I played all over the United States and in Sweden, so I know the finesse side of it, I know what it takes to win from a player’s standpoint.”

Time will tell how the Wildcats fare this season as they adjust to Henry’s coaching style and expectations. But Henry knows all about building programs and is ready to give it his all to make the Wildcats successful. After playing several years on the youth and junior hockey circuits, he signed with Midland University in Nebraska in 2014 to join a brand new program. He became a key contributor and left after four seasons as the program’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, and points.

“Right now I’m just kind of taking it day by day, not looking too far down the road. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” Henry said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve thought has worked for other coaches I’ve played for in the past and take a little bit out of their playbook and use their (knowledge).”

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