This past winter, Jon Bendorf amassed 16 goals and 36 assists to average over a point per game with the Aberdeen Wings in the North American Hockey League.
He came over in a trade from the Philadelphia Rebels early in the season and was so good Aberdeen coach Scott Langer labeled it one of the best trades he has made in his 15 years as a coach and general manager.
And yet, that may not have been the most impressive thing about Bendorf this season.
When the NAHL’s post-season awards came out in early May, the 19-year-old Yardville resident was given the league’s Community Service Award for his unending passion to aid any area in which he is residing. Bendorf has earned a reputation throughout the league of being a guy who never has to be asked to help out. In fact, he is often asking others to lend a hand.
That was the case after the Wings players visited the non-profit Aspire, an organization that supports people with disabilities of all types. Bendorf was so impressed that he took it upon himself to organize a group to visit Aspire every week. Those trips, according to the release announcing Bendorf’s award, “made a tremendous difference in Aspire client’s lives. From throwing darts, doing spin art, playing bingo, and just hanging out, the relationships developed were truly special.”
Bendorf took an interest in it because his billet mother—the matriarch of the family he lives with in Aberdeen—worked for the organization.
“After my visit, I saw how much the residents really loved the visit and the smiles that they expressed won me over,” he said. “I made the decision to try to organize as many visits as possible because it made me feel the same way. The joy of giving goes a long way.”
Bendorf has been realizing such joy ever since growing up in Hamilton. He has long been influenced by his sister, Amanda, who helps those with special needs.
“That is something I really admire about her,” he said. “So when the opportunity to get involved with the same type of people presented itself, I jumped right aboard. I enjoyed it so much, that I really took the lead with it. I have always enjoyed getting involved with community efforts for my teams, but this year I really jumped in with both feet.”
There is plenty to jump into, as members of the Wings organization spend countless hours visiting the School for the Blind and YMCA, helping victims of domestic abuse, waiting tables for community theater and participating in the Out of Darkness Suicide Prevention 5K.
Through it all, Bendorf was front and center.
“Jonathan is committed to being at as many community events possible and his compassion and heart in the community is a huge reason why he is a fan favorite in Aberdeen,” Langer said. “Jonathan truly makes a difference each time he steps into the community.”
And while that dedication was recognized by the NAHL in the most honorable way possible, the end result did not mean as much to Bendorf as the journey itself.
“I do not volunteer for community service to win awards,” he said. “I do it because it makes me feel great to help people that may be less fortunate than me, and it is a great way to take your mind off of other things. My faith means a lot to me, and I believe that giving back is one way I can repay the talents that God has blessed me with. That being said, it is definitely an honor to be recognized by the league for this prestigious award.”
He’s also being recognized as a clutch player these days, having scored five game-winning goals with Aberdeen. Bendorf helped the Wings into the playoffs and collected four goals and one assist in five post-season games.
‘…It turned out that being dealt to Aberdeen was a blessing in disguise. Aberdeen turned out to be just what was needed to get me going again.’
It’s the continuation of a journey that started with area club teams and progressed at Hun.
His final full year at the Princeton prep school was 2015-16. He became the 23rd player chosen in the NAHL draft by Wichita Falls, where he played most of last season before being acquired by Tri-City of the United States Hockey League for their final 20 games. He returned to Hun in the spring of 2017 to play lacrosse and get his degree.
While home, he was traded from Tri-City to Muskegon in the USHL, but was released in September when the team got down to its final 23-man roster. Several NAHL teams contacted him since Wichita Falls had folded, and he opted for the Philadelphia Rebels in order to be close to home. Bendorf got somewhat of a shock when Philly traded him to Aberdeen after the forward scored four goals and two assists in the first 12 games.
“I was kind of surprised at being dealt because it came out of nowhere,” he said. “I was extremely nervous and somewhat frustrated that I was on the move again, but it turned out that being dealt to Aberdeen was a blessing in disguise. Aberdeen turned out to be just what was needed to get me going again.”
The NAHL is one of the top junior hockey leagues in the country and is the only Tier II junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey. It is an alternative to the Tier I USHL, and the players, as Bendorf’s travels will attest, are interchangeable between leagues. Players receive uniforms, team clothing and select equipment and are required to pay a monthly stipend to their billet family.
Bendorf feels it has been an invaluable training ground before he dives into collegiate hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI is Division I program in the ECAC, which includes Princeton and several other Ivy League schools. He was drafted 23rd overall by the Chicago Steel in this year’s USHL Phase II draft, but plans on remaining with Aberdeen for one more year in hopes of winning the league’s Robertson Cup.
“The NAHL is a place where I am able to develop the necessary skills that will allow me to excel when I enter RPI,” he said. “Playing there I have seen my game improve immensely since leaving Hun. The NHL is my ultimate goal but the next stop will be RPI.”
He plans on enrolling in the fall of 2019, as he calls Aberdeen “the best situation I have ever had. I feel that I have been blessed for it to have happened to me.”
And he loves being considered one of Langer’s best trades.
“Coach Langer’s words really meant a lot to me,” he said. “The coaching staff there put me in the right situation to excel, so the strong feelings go both ways. I am very grateful to be in a place where I am appreciated so much, it makes playing the game that much easier.”