Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ice Hockey: How Burt Became Sold on the Vipers; after Eight Years in the Obscurity of Japanese Ice Hockey, All It Took Was an Night Watching Television to Tempt Burt Henderson out of Retirement. Stuart Rayner Talked to the Vipers Defenceman with an Unusual Career Path

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ice Hockey: How Burt Became Sold on the Vipers; after Eight Years in the Obscurity of Japanese Ice Hockey, All It Took Was an Night Watching Television to Tempt Burt Henderson out of Retirement. Stuart Rayner Talked to the Vipers Defenceman with an Unusual Career Path

Article excerpt

Byline: Stuart Rayner

ASK any ice hockey fan for the powerhouses of the world game and you will get pretty long odds on Japan being mentioned. As sporting backwaters go, it qualifies as little more than a puddle in the consciousness of most who love the sport. Yet it was Japan where Burt Henderson thought he had played out his career until he was watching television one evening.

After eight years on the other side of the world, the 32-year-old returned to Canada to spend more time with his soon-to-expand family and was perfectly happy until tuning in for some Christmas entertainment. Three months on, the defenceman lines up for the Vipers in tomorrow's Elite League play-off quarter-final first leg at Belfast Giants.

"I almost came to Newcastle at the start of the season but decided to stay retired," he recalls. "I was happy until around Christmas when (Vipers co-owner) Paul Ferone called me, said he needed some help and asked if I wanted to come. It took about two seconds to decide.

"A combination of things made me change my mind. I was watching the World Junior Championships and it got the juices going, I just missed competing. Once I retired I figured I was getting older and it was time to move on to the next stage of my life. But I'm just a hockey player, a typical Canadian guy, and I wanted to play again."

Within a fortnight he had agreed to sign for the Newcastle club, filling the hole left by the sacking of the under-performing Petr Kratky. Despite having a Japanese mother, Henderson never saw the Land of the Rising Sun as a possible destination when starting his professional career with Bellingham Ice Hawks in 1991-92.

"I'm half-Japanese, that's how I got over there in the first place," he explains. "I didn't even know hockey existed there before that but they had a really good league.

It was a culture shock. I was in a small town with absolutely no English. I didn't speak any Japanese.

I get mad at my mum now for not speaking it in front of me. It would have been a lot easier! My first two years I was in Sapporo, a pretty big city up north.

"That team (Snow Brand) folded after a couple of years so I joined another in Tomakomai (OJI). …

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