Kyle Herbster: ‘Just Fun To Watch Him Play’

Former Local Forward Captures NOJHL Scoring Title

By Ross Forman

Kyle Herbster had a breakout season in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League – with a lot of credit going to his off-the-ice dedication last summer here in his native northwest suburbs.

Herbster, a right wing who lives in Cary, spent last summer in the suburbs skating at least three times a week with longtime friends who also are playing juniors. Plus, they were focused during their gym workouts. Herbster added about 10 pounds of muscle to his 5-foot-11, 185-pound build.

His work, er, workouts, paid off personally and certainly for his team, the Cochrane Crunch. He had 17 goals, 16 assists in 56 games during the 2016-17 season. This season, he tallied 36 goals, 50 assists, including 7 power-play and 8 short-handed goals.

Herbster claimed the Jimmy Connors Memorial Trophy as the NOJHL Scoring Champion. His 86 points were one more than Nick Techel (Soo Eagles).

Plus, his 8 shorthanded tallies topped the league in that category.

“He came here (this season) with a great attitude,” said Crunch GM/head coach Ryan Leonard. “He’s really (improved) his game a lot. He’s great defensively; he’s great in all three zones, and has just found a touch how to score.

“He can play (in) multiple gears. If you want to play fast, he’ll play fast.  If you want to slow the game down, he’ll slow the game down. That’s what makes him a really great player.”

Leonard said Herbster’s sensational scoring season was “nothing we’re surprised at.”

“There have been many games (this season) when he’s stood out. He’s always a game-changer,” Leonard said. “When you need a clutch goal or a clutch play, he’s definitely the guy you have to go to.

“It is just fun to watch him play.”

Herbster led Cochrane in scoring and assists, and his 86 points were 29 more than second-place finisher, Austin Stauffer. Herbster had 3 game-winning goals.

His scoring dominance continued in the playoffs, as he has 2 goals, 4 assists for a team-leading 6 points in their first 5 games.

Herbster and the Crunch are set to host the first two games of the best-of-seven NOJHL East Division Finals against Timmins Rock on Friday, March 30, at the Tim Horton Event Centre.

Games 3 and 4 shift to the McIntyre Arena in Timmins, scheduled for Monday, April 2, and Wednesday, April 4, respectively, at 7 p.m.

If required, Game 5 would be held April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Tim Horton Event Centre, and a Game 6 would be hosted by Timmins Rock on Sunday, April 8, at 3 p.m.

Game 7, if needed, would be back in Cochrane on Tuesday, April 10, at 7 p.m.

All NOJHL postseason contests will be streamed online live and on demand via

“I thought I did well (this season); I liked what happened (statistically) in the jump from last season to this season,” Herbster said. “Everything just came a little easier, being a second-year player in the league.  And (last) summer I was able to get bigger, faster.  We all pushed each other so we all would get better.”

Herbster skated last summer at the Crystal Ice House or the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee.

“I wasn’t expecting a big jump (in stats) like I had,” Herbster said. “I was just burying my chances.

“I didn’t really pay attention (to statistics) until Christmas-time, and that’s when I realized I was (among) the top ten scorers, and knew I could be up there for the rest of the season.”

The Canadian Junior Hockey League named Herbster one of its Gongshow Gear 3 Stars of the Month for February, as he racked up 21 points, with 6 goals, 15 assists. He also had 1 game-winner and 7 multi-point games.

Herbster also was named an NOJHL Second Team CCM Hockey All-Star, with 24 multi-point games this season.

The highlight was: 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) in a late-February home game against Timmins Rock. “Everything seemed to be working that night and we just kept filling the net,” Herbster said of Cochrane’s 12-2 victory.

Herbster skated through his bantam major season for the Yellow Jackets, where his dad (Jason) is now the club’s coaching education coordinator. The elder Herbster, who played for Wilmette as a youngster and then went to New Trier, is the former president, hockey director for the Yellow Jackets. Jason was a midget NW assistant coach this season and has been coaching for 32 years.

And yes, Father did coach Son.

Well, still does, sort of – as much as he can hundreds of miles away.

Herbster’s hockey career also included time skating for Team Illinois and Chicago Young Americans.

He skated some this season with line mate Zach Hayes, who is from Bartlett and also skated for TI. “We have chemistry (on the ice),” Herbster said.

Herbster said he plans to return to the Chicago area after the Crunch season and continue his rigorous, dedicated training with the same group, “and hopefully get better, stronger and quicker,” he said.

And no doubt it will help his on-ice confidence too, as it did this season, he said.

Slapshots With … Kyle Herbster

  • Giving Praise: “I wouldn’t be where I am without my mom (Nance) and dad; they’ve been my biggest supporters throughout my whole career.”
  • Giving Praise, Round 2: He saluted former local coaches Steve Maloney (Yellow Jackets), Larry Pedrie (CYA) and Chuck Linkenheld (TI). “All made a huge impact on my hockey game and my life.”
  • Enjoys fishing, golfing and playing Fortnite.
  • Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
  • Favorite NHL Player: Jonathan Toews
  • Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Baseball
  • Cubs or White Sox: Cubs
  • Favorite Cubs Player: Kris Bryant
  • Favorite Pro Athlete: Jonathan Toews
  • Favorite app: Snapchat
  • Favorite TV Show: The Office
  • Favorite Sports Movie: Miracle
  • Best Local Youth and/or High School Jersey: Yellow Jackets
  • Worst Local Youth and/or High School Jersey: Barrington (youth)

Photos courtesy of Kyle Herbster

Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at

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