Kenai's C.J. Henley controls the puck during a recent game against Skyview.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
For 2 1/2 months this fall, Kenai Central senior C.J. Henley and either his mother, Sherry, or his father, Charlie, drove to Anchorage nearly every day of the week so C.J. could play Midget A hockey with the Southcentral Wolves.
Yep, Henley, a defenseman for Kenai, is that devoted to hockey.
"He's the type of person who puts 110 percent into something when he wants it," Sherry said. "He's worked hard to get to where he is at."
Brian Gabriel Sr. was Henley's head coach at Kenai for his freshman through junior years.
"He definitely didn't come in and light any fires with his play," Gabriel said. "He kind of made up his mind that he would be on a mission to be a big part of the team and the lineup.
"I saw a difference in him between his freshman and sophomore years, then I noticed a huge difference between his sophomore and junior years. I suggested that he play Midget A in Anchorage, and now he's even better."
Henley started playing hockey when he was 6 and it has been his passion since then. He played some baseball and some golf, but those two sports have mostly receded into the background as hockey has come to the fore.
Sherry Henley said her son was fortunate enough to have several great coaches that gave C.J.'s game a lift. She said two of those coaches are Ward Bishop and Matt Stetz during C.J.'s Bantam years with the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association.
Stetz was one of those who noticed how dedicated Henley is.
"It's like Matt Stetz said, (C.J.) not only knows the game when he is on the ice, he knows the game when he is off the ice. He's hockey smart," Sherry said. "He'd skate until the ice was gone. He'd go up there every day and practice, practice, practice."
When Henley reached high school, Gabriel also noted him as a player who was always the first on the ice and the last off the ice at practice.
Henley had earned a regular varsity shift by the end of his sophomore year, when Kenai upset Soldotna for the first region conference tournament title in the school's history.
As a junior, the Kards won the region regular season title, the region tournament and made another state appearance. That was also the year Henley earned the nickname "Piper" for the countless shots he put off the goal during the year.
"He's one of those guys that gets a ton of chances that are grade a's," Gabriel said. "Some guys are always doing backhands that find their way in, but he always gets wide-open shots where he's ringing the post or crossbar.
"It's like I told him, 'It's when you're not getting those opportunities that you should start worrying.'"
Henley's first goal his junior season came at an opportune time, though, when he scored Kenai's first goal of the game in a 6-2 victory over Lathrop in the fourth-place semifinals of the state tournament.
This season, Henley has already found the net twice, in addition to dishing out 11 assists. He said his experience playing hockey in Anchorage this fall has helped.
"When you play in Anchorage, they are all good players," Henley said. "There is no weakness at all. When I came down here, I felt like I always knew what was going to happen. It felt like I had so much more time with the puck."
Henley also is serving as the captain for Kenai this season - a season he hopes will end in a third straight crown at the region tournament.
"He's a real team player," Gabriel said. "He doesn't have to make somebody look bad to make himself look good."
Added Sherry: "He's harder on himself than anybody else. He's kind of like a perfectionist."
That same dedication applies to Henley in the classroom. Sherry said academics have always come first in the family.
Henley carries A's and B's at Kenai. He would like to study architecture and drafting in college.
The big question is whether or not he will be playing hockey in college. After high school, Henley, who thanks his coaches and parents for all they've done for him, would like to play junior hockey for a year or two and see if he can catch the eye of a college.
"He's definitely got the drive, desire and right attitude (for junior hockey)," Gabriel said. "Juniors is a real emotional roller coaster, but he's always been able to keep his game on an even keel."
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