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Hendricks happy to be back in Winnipeg

Hendricks: "I don't think I'm going to have to do a whole lot, just come in and be myself."

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

WINNIPEG - One way or another, Matt Hendricks knew he'd be going to Winnipeg on Feb. 25.

He just didn't know what jersey he'd be wearing when the Winnipeg Jets faced off with the Minnesota Wild the next night.

He got his answer at 1:15 pm CT. He had been traded to the Jets, the team he had spent the entire 2017-18 season with.

Now he had to get there from St. Paul, Minnesota.

"Just threw the stuff in the pickup, roads were nice and clean - quick jaunt," Hendricks said after making the seven-hour drive to the Manitoba capital.

"Leaving Minnesota, my hometown and my family behind, it's a hard thing to do this time of year.

"I'm excited about the opportunity here. It's a team that's played well and a lot of familiar faces here. You walk in and feel comfortable right away."

The 37-year-old played in 60 games for the Jets last season, scoring five goals and adding eight assists. In 22 games with Minnesota, Hendricks has two assists.

But it's no wonder he feels comfortable back inside the Jets dressing room. It could be said his biggest impact is felt in that room.

"He's a super well-liked guy in the room. He really lightens the mood and takes the pressure off some of the guys," said Adam Lowry. "He does a good job of keeping things upbeat at practice and in the room. He's a true warrior and it's nice to have him back on our team."

Video: PREGAME | Matt Hendricks

To get Hendricks back in Jets colours, Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff traded a seventh-round pick in 2020.

Cheveldayoff felt he was just the addition a young Jets dressing room needed - and he wasn't the only one to feel that way.

"When I sat down with guys like Blake (Wheeler) and Mark (Scheifele) and Paul (Maurice), we talk about the different things with respect to our room," said Cheveldayoff.

"If you want to be the ultimate champion, it's a long grind. You have to be prepared for it. You need people that are going to help you prepare for that. Hendy is a real pro that comes, competes, prepares and is ready to play every night."

Earlier this season, the Jets played the Wild in the preseason, with Hendricks scoring for Minnesota in that game. 

He was the target of some friendly jabs in warm-up. Maurice said at the time a lot of those jabs revolved around Hendricks' age - "ageism," as Maurice called it - and was a sign of just how much Hendricks was respected.

Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice

Now with Hendricks in the dressing room, Maurice believes his impact is two-fold.

"One of them is setting a certain tone of culture of how you want your room to operate," said Maurice. "When you were as young as we were with good young players, they all want more. I have no problem with that, but it's still a 60-minute hockey game."

Maurice said those players, who are used to being 20-minute-per-night players on their junior or college teams can have a tough time adjusting to that.

"Matt excels in taking those young players and keeping them on the right path when the coach isn't around, or Blake Wheeler isn't around to talk them through their every day," said Maurice. "It has a huge impact on your room and your culture and these young players learning how to be good pros."

So to hear that he's thought of that way by Cheveldayoff and Maurice, as well as the teammates like Wheeler and Scheifele that he spends every day with during the season almost made Hendricks speechless.

"Those are two of the best players in the National Hockey League," Hendricks said of Scheifele and Wheeler. "We had a lot of talks last season about where I could help them, how I could help them. Maybe allow them to focus more on their game and being a hockey player instead of any kind of other things that happen within a locker room. Let me shoulder a lot of that. We're a young team here, let me help those guys out, and you guys worry about hockey."

"He has no problem reaching out to the entire spectrum of our locker room, whether it's a 22-minute guy or a six-minute guy, and helping shape that person's day about being positive and being excited," said Maurice. "That's just leadership.

"Are you a person the organization wants other players to follow? Do you have the ability and the skillset that can identify a guy that needs help and reach out, and have the respect of that player? He has all those things here."

Video: TRADE DEADLINE | Kevin Cheveldayoff

With 20 games to go in the regular season, Hendricks can't wait to get down to business with the players in the dressing room that he grew so close to last year, especially during the run to the Western Conference Final.

"I don't think anyone in this room is happy with the way the season ended for us last year. For the most part it's the same group except for a few guys," said Hendricks. "It's a hungry team. It's a hungry organization that wants to win now. I'm excited and fortunate at the same time to be a part of it."

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