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Adult Ironman of the Year

by Hannah Maier / Washington Capitals
photo courtesy of Gardens Ice House
Tom Hendrix of Colombia, Md. was named this year’s recipient of USA Hockey’s “Adult Ironman of the Year Award,” an accolade presented to an American athlete that demonstrates continual participation and leadership in the hockey community. Hendrix is a co-founder of the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., a rink that is home to more than 60 adult leagues.

When asked why he thought he was chosen to receive the award, Hendrix chuckled, “How did I get selected? I really don’t know.” But his humble words do not reflect his many achievements in the hockey world. From his days as a collegiate player, to his time now as a founder and participant in many adult programs in the D.C. area, Hendrix has always strived to expand and promote the sport.

Hendrix, originally from Troy, Ohio, became interested in hockey because of his next-door neighbor, Brian “Butch” MacKay, a defenseman for the Troy Bruins of the former International Hockey League (IHL). MacKay took Hendrix to Hobart Arena to watch Bruin games and practices, and as Hendrix recalls,  “He gave me my first hockey stick, and that was my introduction to hockey.”

After spending time in Ohio, Hendrix and his family moved to Lake Placid, N.Y. where skating was “a part of the lifestyle.” After some time in Lake Placid, the family relocated to Troy, N.Y. and lived next to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) field house, the practice facility of the school’s hockey team. He got to know famed RPI hockey coach Ned Harkness, who allowed
photo courtesy of BGSU
Hendrix to skate around with the freshmen team during practices.

Hockey eventually took Hendrix back to Ohio, where he served as member of Bowling Green’s inaugural varsity team (1969). He remained there for four years, registering 55 career games as a left-winger. His team --under the leadership of legendary Falcon coach Jack Vivian--won the MCHA in1969-70 and then again in 1970-71.

After his collegiate career, Hendrix had little desire to play professionally, “Back in those days, playing in the minor leagues was not what people wanted to do. It was very rough. I didn’t have any desire to go back to that.”

Yet, Hendrix did not want to stop playing hockey altogether. As an alternative to playing in the minor leagues, he and his teammates from Bowling Green developed an adult league comprised of about six or seven teams across the U.S. Hendrix played in Indianapolis for a couple of years, traveling across the country to compete against other squads in the adult hockey program.

In 1978, Hendrix’s employer, Certified Homes, transferred him to Colombia, Md. -- the place where he remains to this day. After arriving in the D.C. area, Hendrix immediately immersed himself into the hockey community. He played in three different leagues, including the Chesapeake League in Fort Dupont.

It was through adult hockey that Hendrix met his close friend and current business partner, Clai Carr. Hendrix states,  “We got to be friends back in 1986. We became really close, and we played adult hockey for five or six years together.”

Then, “In the early 90s, we were both looking for something different to do. We always dreamed that the best thing to do would be to build a hockey rink, but it didn’t make economical sense at the time.” But luckily, “There was a big spurt of hockey in the early 90s, and the numbers in the area went up. We decided that this would be something that would make sense for both of us to do at that time.”

In 1996, Hendrix and Carr began to put their ideas into action. They started the planning stages for the Garden Ice House.  Hendrix recalls, “We worked at it for about two years. We had to meet with a bunch of people, like architects and financers. Then we finally built the Gardens Ice House. Originally we had just two sheets, and the following year we built a third sheet; and ever since then we’ve been in business. It’s been a real pleasure for us to have this. The rink belongs to the two of us.”

Since the days of its construction, the Ice House has continually supported the development of
photo courtesy of Tom Hendrix
adult hockey. Hendrix states, “The facility happens to be the home of one of the largest adult hockey programs in the United States, and that is something Clai and I have always treasured.”

Hendrix not only helps to perpetuate adult hockey in the DC area through the Ice House, but he still plays the game in leagues for men 60 years and older.

With all this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Hendrix was selected as the Ironman recipient. His lifetime push to promote adult hockey, and his desire to still play the game, make him a perfect choice for the accolade.

Although his leadership in the hockey community is quite apparent, Hendrix possesses a gracious disposition. When talking about receiving the award, he states,  “When I was selected, it shocked me to death. I was very proud I was chosen though. But, I am also very proud of all the guys who continue to play adult hockey, and of the friendships, the loyalties and the love that those guys have for the game.”

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