skip navigation

Following his brother's lead pays dividends for Tanner Henricks

By Chris Bayee, 04/04/23, 8:00AM PDT


The 16U AAA defenseman becomes the 70th Jr. Duck to make a Division I college commitment. 

Jr. Ducks 16U AAA defenseman Tanner Henricks. Photo courtesy of the Henricks family

It's not a stretch to imagine Tanner Henricks being on college recruiters' radar. After all, a 6-foot-3 defenseman who moves well and has good hands - and happens to be a right shot - checks a lot of boxes.

But the 2006 birth year took his game to another level this season with the Jr. Ducks 16U AAA team, and that helped him receive an offer from St. Cloud State recently. That made Henricks the 70th player with ties to the Jr. Ducks to make a Division I commitment, and the 40th since the program started its full Tier I program 10 years ago. 

Following his brother's example

Henricks took an interesting path to reach this point, however. His family moved to Minnesota when he and his older brother Ty were young. Both played well enough and performed well enough academically to earn spots at a prestigious prep school. 

But Ty returned to California last season to play for the 16U team. The team earned a berth to the USA Hockey Youth Nationals, and Ty received an offer from Western Michigan. Tanner took notes.

"My brother had a huge part of me coming back to the Ducks," Tanner said. "I wanted to improve, and then I saw everything that happened for my brother, who got a D-I offer, and it got me excited. So he had a big part in it, and our family moved back here (this season)."

Ty, a 6-foot-5 power forward with a massive shot, earned notice with a season that included an astounding 87 goals and 155 points in 80 games. As a 17-year-old playing against players up to three years older in the United States Hockey League this season he has 19 points in 45 games. He's on the watchlist for the 2023 NHL Draft.

Tanner, a Phase I draft pick of Lincoln of the USHL last spring, likely will play against him in the league next season. That's good practice for their college years because St. Cloud State and Western Michigan both are NCHC powers and both reached the NCAA Tournament this season. 

"We used to play with each other," Tanner said. "We had some one-on-one battles on the ponds in Minnesota. Competing against him really helped."

Tanner said his game developed this season in a multitude of ways.

"My skating definitely got better, my confidence, not being afraid to make mistakes, and growing from them when I did," he said. "I'm seeing plays better, shooting better."

Comprehensive training also helped

The other part of the equation for Tanner's growth, he said, has been going to school at Optimum Hockey Academy. He added that the hybrid program prepares him for the rigor of college courses while providing a flexible schedule for hockey travel. 

"The classes are challenging," said Tanner, who's taking pre-calculus and physics among other courses. "The workouts in the gym and the skill development practices have been great. Jeff Friesen is amazing. He's a good coach and a great guy. He's helped me a lot with my shooting.

"I have to thank my parents as well. They've paid for everything and helped me through even though they never played hockey."

The Henricks brothers tried many sports as young children - baseball, soccer among them - "but nothing felt right," Tanner said. "Then we went to some free ice sessions and skated around for fun. It clicked for both of us. We just loved it."

A season of individual and team growth

Today, Tanner is part of a Jr. Ducks team that begins play at Nationals later this week. His 16U coach said he's played a significant role in the team's success.

"He came in defensive-minded," Alex Kim said. "That's what he was accustomed to. He had to develop the offensive side of his game."

Tanner, who had not surpassed 36 points in his previous three seasons, has 76 points, including 15 goals, in 81 games. So much for being a defensive defenseman only. 

"He was apprehensive at first to carry pucks past the red line or join a rush," Kim said. "He played not to get beat, not to make mistakes. Now he's down by the net trying to score, which I'm fine with as long as he's defensively responsible."

Kim said Tanner is scratching the surface of his potential. 

"His fundamentals are very good, and he's got good hands and a good shot," the coach said. "He also has good mobility for a defenseman. He's got a lot going for him."

Henricks is part of a strong D core on the 16Us. In fact, it's not unusual for Kim to use four defensemen to kill penalties. The PK has been one of the team's strengths. The group includes Tyler McGowan, Brendan Dunphy, Aidan Callahan, Liam McGuren and Taygen Gilmer.

"Everyone is trying to be the best they can be, and we all push each other," Tanner said. "It's made a big difference for me to compete against my teammates every day. My team went to Nationals last year, and this group has some of the best D I've seen at this level. It's made us all a whole lot better."

That competitive push started with his older brother, it's continued with the Jr. Ducks, and that's helped Tanner achieve several of his goals, including the Division I commitment.