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Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
John Herrington is a small-town kid with big-time talent.
Long before he made his mark with the Prince George Spruce Kings, he started playing hockey in his hometown of Hudson’s Hope, located in northern B.C. with a population of just over 1,000 people.
“There’s no Tim Horton’s or McDonalds,” said Herrington. “It’s just mom and pop shops. It’s a cool environment to be in. Everyone knows who you are and you know everybody. I go home every now again and it’s all handshakes, hugs and ‘how’ve you been?’.
When he was younger, Herrington played house hockey in a small arena in Hudson’s Hope, but after a few years, he had to look elsewhere to find better competition.
In 2015, he joined the Fort St. John Flyers U15 team. Even though Fort St. John is located in B.C., they were a member of the Northern Alberta Hockey League. Needless to say, there was a lot of travel involved for the Herrington family.
“Even if we had a home game, I was still travelling an hour and half depending on the weather,” said Herrington. “The roads aren’t necessarily great from Hudson’s Hope to Fort St. John. The closest game was a three-hour trip to Grande Prairie, then after that, it was Edmonton, which is an eight-hour drive in the snow. We would do that almost every weekend.”
Those were formative years for Herrington as a young player learning the game. When he thinks back to who had the biggest influence on him during that time, it always comes back to one person – his dad.
“He helped me the most out of anybody,” said Herrington of his father, also named John. “I think a lot of hockey players can say that. When I was a kid growing up, he would come pick me up from school and we would head to the rink down the road. We would spend three or four hours just skating and shooting pucks alone. Nobody else would show up. We had that rink to ourselves most days.”
After three years in Fort St. John, it was time for Herrington to level up again and continue pursuing his hockey goals, this time in Prince George, with the Cariboo Cougars of what was then considered Major Midget.
The change of scenery could have been a culture shock for him. He went from Hudson’s Hope with just over 1,000 people, then Fort St. John with just over 20,000 people to the much larger city of Prince George with a population of nearly 75,000.
Luckily for Herrington, he was able to rely on some familiar faces in town to ease his transition.
“I was lucky enough that my billet family actually used to live in Hudson’s Hope when I was growing up, so I had a really good relationship with them,” he said. “I call them uncle and aunt, even though we’re not related. On top of that, my sisters were going to college in town at the time, so they lived here as well. That made the transition really easy.”
What made it even easier was the success him and his teammates enjoyed on the ice. In Herrington’s first year with the Cougars, they won the league title and in his second year, he was named team captain.
In his 16-year-old season, he put up 27 points in 40 games. This got the attention of the local BCHL team as he was called upon to play two games as an affiliate for the Prince George Spruce Kings in 2018-19. The next year, he was even more productive with the Cougars, notching 34 points in 37 games and this brought on an even lengthier stint in the BCHL, suiting up for eight games in the regular season and another three in the playoffs.
According to Herrington, he had not put much thought about where he wanted to go for the next step in his career, but this early exposure to the BCHL made the decision easy for him.
“Once I got to be in that atmosphere and be in the rink with our fans, I realized that this where I would like to stay and play my junior career,” he said. “I was lucky enough that two years down the road from that moment, I got to do that.”
“I got to be around the team a lot when I was 17. Even if I wasn’t playing, I would come in once a week for practices. I got to learn the systems and got to know the guys. The transition the next year when I was playing full time, it just made it so much easier.”
He is now in his second full season in the BCHL and is among the top players in the league. He is currently tied for the league lead in points with 22 in 10 games and is a key part of a Spruce Kings team that is right in the thick of things in a highly competitive Interior Conference.
After announcing his arrival as a full-time BCHL player in last year’s pod season, it only took a matter of weeks before the NCAA came calling and he announced his commitment to play Division I hockey at Lake Superior State University.
“They’re one of the smaller schools in the NCAA,” said Herrington. “I felt like that was the best fit for me, coming from Hudson’s Hope. The fans are loyal. You walk around the school and everyone knows who you are and supports you. It sounded like a small-town feel and that’s what I’m into.”
Small town or big city, it seems like Herrington would be a good fit no matter where he plays. He has proven that his skill on the ice makes him an integral part of any team. Whether it’s house hockey in Hudson’s Hope, the BCHL or the NCAA, Herrington will likely excel in any situation.