Aberdeen American News Article - 11/21/18

Wings Bendorf balances life on and off the ice in the Hub City

by Rob Garofalo

Published in the Aberdeen American News on Wednesday, November 21, 2018

 Aberdeen Wings forward Jonathan Bendorf prepares to take a shot on goal during a game against the Brookings Blizzard at the Odde Ice Center. American News photo by Robb Garofalo

Aberdeen Wings forward Jonathan Bendorf prepares to take a shot on goal during a game against the Brookings Blizzard at the Odde Ice Center. American News photo by Robb Garofalo

He was one of the veteran leaders Aberdeen Wings head coach Scott Langer was counting on coming into the season, and Jonathan Bendorf has responded.

Through 17 games, Bendorf is tied for the team lead in goals, with eight, and leads the team in assists, with 14, and total points, 22. However, it’s his contributions off the ice that are a clear indicator for how balanced the Wings forward’s life is.

Bendorf was the recipient of the North American Hockey League’s Central Division Community Service Player of the Year Award last season. Bendorf has volunteered his time in between practice, games, and his part-time job at Menard’s, to Aspire, an organization dedicated to provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I started going to Aspire on Thursdays,” Bendorf said. “My billet mom, Mrs. (Arlette) Keller works there and asked if I’d be interested in helping out, and I thought it would be a pretty good thing to do. I kind of fell in love with it, actually, and ever since I go every Thursday. It’s like my pregame ritual, just to go there and see the people and how hard they work. It takes my mind off a lot of things, which helps me on game day.”

Not lost on Bendorf is the fact that, since he was 3 years old, he’s had the physical and mental gifts to play the game of hockey. At times it can be easy to take that for granted. Thankfully for him, his experiences at Aspire keep him grounded, while at the same time, keep him inspired to do more than just try to put a puck into a net.

“I’ve definitely been blessed with a great life,” Bendorf said. “Those people at Aspire, they continue to put a smile on my face and I try to put a smile on theirs. They really do just as much for me when I go there than I do for them. They’re happy when I get there. (Wings teammate) Brad Belisle goes with me and last year it was Jack Kelly. We have fun going there. We don’t dread it, we look forward to it. It’s a good time, for sure.”

And don’t think Bendorf motives for helping are motivated by anything else other than volunteering his time.

“Yeah, I won the (award) for community service, but I don’t do anything for awards,” Bendorf said. “That just came along with it.”

Bendorf has come a long way to have engrained himself in Aberdeen. A native of Yardville, N.J., Bendorf had been skating for the NAHL East Division Philadelphia Rebels at the beginning of last season before being acquired by the Wings in a trade 14 games into the season.

“Things weren’t going bad for me (in Philadelphia). It was actually kind of out of the blue that they told me I was traded,” Bendorf said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect showing up in South Dakota. My billet family lives outside of the main part of Aberdeen so we drove to their house from off the highway and I was thinking, ‘There is nothing here,’ when I first showed up.”

Luckily for Bendorf, there was a little more to experience in the Hub City, and that really began with his first day of practice with his new team.

“Yeah, that first day of practice, I knew I was going to like playing in Aberdeen,” Bendorf said. “We had a great group of guys who helped me get comfortable really quick. I fell in love with playing here really the moment I started skating.”

Family is a major component to Bendorf’s life, as his mother and father have been involved with both his and his brother’s early involvement with the game. That idea of family is also personified in the Wings organization.

“Everyone in the whole organization knows each other,” Bendorf said. “We’re all pretty much on a first-name basis, well, obviously I call Mr. (Greg) Odde Mr. Odde, but the guys in the locker room, Coach Langer and Coach (Michael) Hill, we all just get along. Off the ice we hang out with each other, on off days we hang out. It really starts with ‘Smack’ (Langer). He really wants you to understand from day one of practice you’re part of the Wings family, and that really brings our team together.”

The ultimate goal for players in the NAHL is to continue their hockey career at the collegiate level. Bendorf says he would like to. But beyond that, he just wants to play the game “as long as I can.” As for life away from the rink, one thing Bendorf does not want to have to go back and wonder how things may have been different. He’s in Aberdeen at this point of his life, and he’s enjoying it.

“I don’t want to look back on my life in 20 or 30 years and regret anything,” Bendorf said. “My experience in Aberdeen has been great. I found out a little about myself, and found some things here you can do to make your time here fun. From the hockey aspect, to the community welcoming you with open arms, it’s been an experience I won’t ever forget.”

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