Cataracts’ Rob Hennigar, NLSHL’s leading scorer, leads team into Herder final
If all that was available to you were Rob Hennigar’s individual season stats over the last decade, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a defenceman.
An offensive defenceman, for sure, but with those numbers, a defenceman nonetheless.
Nine goals and 26 assists for 35 points in 2004-05. Nine goals and 33 assists for 42 points the next season. Then 13-29-42 and 15-43-58, followed by 18-54-72, 8-20-28, 9-54-63, 18-41-59, 10-27-37 and 11-37-48. That’s a total of 120 goals and 373 assists, making for a better than 3-1 ratio of helpers to tallies.
But Hennigar is not a defenceman. He’s a centre. A set-up guy. A disher of the puck. A distributor of the biscuit. A wizard with the wand. An enabler.
“The thing is, when it comes to shooting, he’s actually got one of the quickest releases in the league,” said Shane Lukinchuk, Hennigar’s coach with the Grand Falls Windsor-Cataracts of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL).
“He can really surprise goalies with his shot. But he’s such a wonderful passer, you don’t worry about him not shooting enough.
“He makes something out of nothing. He’s got such a sense when it comes to making passes, there are times when you’re on the bench and you’re thinking, ‘How did he do that?’”
With the 30-year-old Hennigar doing what he’s done in so many of his hockey stops — leading his team in scoring — the Cataracts finished first overall in the NLSHL regular-season standings and have progressed to the league final, where they will take on the Clarenville Caribous in the best-of-seven Herder Memorial Trophy series, beginning tonight (7:30 p.m.) in Grand Falls-Windsor.
Game 2 is 2 p.m. Sunday at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium. That 11-37-48 stats line — making him the NLSHL’s overall leading scorer — is Hennigar’s from his first season in the Newfoundland league, one that represents what you might call the start of the fourth stage of his hockey career.
A native of Jordan, Ont., in the Niagara region, Hennigar played four seasons of major junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, four more with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, and four in the pro ranks in North America and Europe before showing up in Grand Falls-Windsor.
Lukinchuk credits the Cats’ front office, particularly head of hockey operations Brian Casey, with targeting Hennigar as a possible import player, adding that it helped that Cataracts star D-man Luke Gallant played with Hennigar at UNB.
"The connection with Luke certainly had something to do with it, but Brian Casey really did his homework on me and that made a big diifference. And I think it helped that Brian also played in Europe and had a good feel for my sitiation," said Hennigar, who was with Schwennigen of the German second division last season.
Casey, a Grand Falls native, played eight years in Austria, Slovakia and Denmark.
Hennigar also said he got good advice from Corey Crocker, the Harbour Grace native and former head coach of the NSHL's CeeBee Stars, Crocker and Hennigar having worked togther at hockey schools in the Maritimes.
But Hennigar's arrival in central Newfoundland was also a matter of timing. You might says his delivery to the Cataracts came about, in large part, because of a delivery of a different kind.
Hennigar and his wife, former UNB basketball player Cristy McBride, welcomed the birth of their first child, a girl, a week ago. It was the anticipation of that birth that played a big part in his decision to come back to North America after spending the last two years playing in Europe, first in Coirtina, Italy and then in Schwennigen.
"We knew the birth would take place in late March and that was just about the end of thhe regular season and the start of the playoffs in Europe and it really became a (health) insurance issue for us because we didn't know if we would be over there or in Canada at the time of the birth, " said Hennigar. "We just decided that it would be easier to make sure we here when the baby was born."
The NSHL, with its abbreviated 24-game schedule consisting of only weekend games, was a good fit for Hennigar as he prepared for fatherhood.
And it provided a good quality of hockey.
"I really wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "I was told the hockey was good, but you never really know until you experience it yourself.
"It's different from the pros because there are almost no practices. In the pros, you live and breathe hockey all week. In this league, it's just on the weekend.
"But the hockey is very good and there are a lot of good players in this league, especially on our team and (the Caribous). It should be a great final.
Making the trek from New Brunswick, where he now lives, to central Newfoundland, Hennigar appeared in every game during the regular season.
“We knew right away that we wanted to get him matched up with a scorer on his line,” said Lukinchuk, “so we started out with Andre Gill on his wing.
“But eventually, we decided we wanted to spread our offence a bit more. The other thing was that we didn’t have that many right-handed shots among our forwards, especially on the wing.
“So we moved Cam Fergus, who shoots right, from centre to right wing (on Hennigar’s line) and Gill to another line, although he and Rob still play together on the power play.”
Fergus, like Hennigar, is an import forward from Ontario with a similar hockey path — major junior (OHL and QMJHL), followed by university (Saint Mary’s) and the pros (he spent last season with Wheeling of the ECHL).
They’ve made for a potent one-two punch, Fergus finishing as runner-up to Hennigar in league scoring with 41 points. That includes 21 goals, second only to Gill’s 24.
Goulds native Andrew Brennan plays on the left side with Gill and Hennigar.
“He averaged a point a game in 12 games with the Cataracts this season and added six more (two goals and four assists) in a four-game sweep of the Western Royals in the West division final.
“(Brennan) is a player with good speed and a lot of experience in this league. He adds a lot to that line,” said Lukinchuk.
But it all begins with Hennigar, who had a more orthodox three goals (including two overtime winners) and four assists, in the series with the Royals.
“There’s a lot of skill on that line, but Rob Hennigar is one of those guys who can make a very, very good player even better,” said Lukinchuk.
MORE HERDER COVERAGE, Page D3