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James Henry returns to Glens Falls ... on the opposing bench

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For finally being a hockey coach, James Henry has to feel a little like a track runner.

That’s because there have been two false starts on his way to actually dispensing advice during a hockey game. But the all-time points leader for the Adirondack Thunder will have a special moment in his third game as assistant coach for the ECHL’s Reading Royals on Saturday.

That’s when the Royals visit Cool Insuring Arena to take on the Thunder, for whom Henry played for five seasons and served as captain in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Henry, 30, was named an assistant coach for the Fayetteville Marksmen of the SPHL last season, but the team never got to play because of the COVID pandemic. Then on June 16, he was named head coach of the SPHL’s Binghamton Black Bears.

On Aug. 23, however, he was named the Royals’ assistant coach.

“It’s definitely interesting; not how I drew up any of it,” Henry said by telephone. “I was obviously very fortunate to get this opportunity, and the timing with former (Royals) assistant Nick Luukko becoming Jacksonville’s head coach, and it being relatively close to the Glens Falls area, with the family able to do a little bit of back and forth.”

Henry and his wife Ashley had bought a house in the Glens Falls area.

When Henry was hired, Reading head coach Kirk MacDonald said in a team release that Henry’s hockey acumen stood out.

“We have seen James’ leadership qualities firsthand over the past six years while also being one of the smartest two-way forwards in the ECHL over that span,” MacDonald said at the time. “Those qualities came through in spades during the interview process.”

Now that he’s actually coaching, Henry said he tries not to mimic other coaches he’s had, but to stay genuine as to his thought process.

“Some of these players I played against, and some are right around the same age as me, so I try not to seem high and mighty,” Henry said. “I try to have a line of communication for them to tell me if I’m completely wrong or if they have a different perspective.”

Henry also said that MacDonald told him, ‘If you see something, say something; don’t be shy,” but also that MacDonald has given him some valuable coaching pointers.

One of the biggest things he’s learned already — and it’s only late October — is the amount of non-hockey responsibilities coaches have.

“You learn to appreciate the people who did those things along the way for you,” Henry said. “There’s always something that pops up that’ll affect your meals or your travel that the players may not know until the end of the trip.”

It’s certainly different from the control aspect. With skates on his feet and a stick in his hand, Henry could, and did, affect the outcome of games. He has 230 career points for the Thunder, on 69 goals and 161 assists in 303 games. Entering this season, he had scored 86 more points than Peter MacArthur, in second place. He also played 110 games more than Conor Riley, second on the Thunder’s all-time games played list.

Henry also won the 2019 ECHL Community Service Award.

“I’m so fresh to it,” Henry said of coaching, “I’m happy with where I am right now. Do I miss being on the ice? I feel like the decision was the correct one to make. Just moving on to the other side has been good for me.”

Of course, Henry knows he’ll have some mixed emotions coaching on “the other bench” Saturday.

“It’s a very exciting place to play for the home team and the away team,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy there.

“I don’t know what kind of warm welcome I’ll get,” he added, chuckling. “They’re a passionate group about their home team. Once that puck drops, there aren’t a lot of friends. It’s all part of the game.”


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