Oakland Athletics pitcher Liam Hendriks traveled 15 hours from his native Australia to Los Angeles on Monday, and that was only the beginning of an escapade borne out of love for the game of hockey and his favorite NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens.
Already exhausted from the flight, Hendriks and his wife Kristi learned upon arrival their reservations for a rental car did not go through. When they arrived to the hotel at 8:30 a.m. Pacific time, it was too early to check in. If that wasn't enough, they're flying to Delaware to attend a wedding on New Year's Eve before driving two hours to Washington for a flight to Boston en route to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., to attend the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and watch Liam's beloved Canadiens play the Boston Bruins on New Year's Day (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).
Once the game was announced, Hendriks was getting there by any means necessary, even if the first leg of his journey meant traveling halfway around the world.
"As soon as we heard the Winter Classic was the Canadiens this year we got super excited and immediately started figuring out how to get tickets," Hendriks said. "I'd do that for the Canadiens for any game, but being able to watch them in the Winter Classic is huge. As soon as I found out, I knew I was getting tickets. If I had to buy them I had to buy them. We were going to spend any amount of money because I wanted to go to this game.
"Then my wife reminded me of the wedding the night before and I was like, 'Oh geez. What are we going to do now?' But we made it work. Hopefully we won't be too tired for the game and hopefully it will be a little bit warmer. We just came from Australia where Christmas Day it was about 90 degrees."
Hendriks' support of the Canadiens began when he attended ECHL games of the Florida Everblades near Fort Myers, Fla., where he spends part of his offseason. His wife had a friend who worked as a cheerleader for the Everblades and has long been a Canadiens fan.
"It was her team growing up," Hendriks said. "She was a professional figure skater for a few years, like a junior figure skater. She started skating and getting me into hockey, and we became a fan of the sport.
"It's really enjoyable for me watching the game. One of the best experiences I've had watching the game was me and (Toronto Blue Jays catcher) Russell Martin sitting on the bus during the playoffs. We had just beaten [the Ottawa Senators] and we're sitting on the bus watching the game, and it was just an extravaganza. We're the only two Canadiens fans on the team."
Before Hendriks was traded to the Athletics on Nov. 20, he joined his Blue Jays teammates for the NHL season opener between the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on the eve of Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The Blue Jays arrived to the suite and were gifted with personalized Maple Leafs jerseys. Hendriks, however, wasn't about to hide his fandom and refused to remove his Canadiens jersey.
"A lot of Toronto fans didn't like me from that point on," Hendriks said. "Apparently I got a lot of love from a lot of people and then a lot of hate from a lot of people. In the end it's a very hockey-oriented town.
Hendriks met and became friends with Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban last season. He's planning to call him and request a Winter Classic jersey.
"I like watching Subban," Hendriks said. "He's got such a way with his stickhandling. He can pretty much run circles around guys. He's not afraid to take that shot, he's not afraid to just let it rip on net. It's the same as (Andrei) Markov. They both are similar in the fact that they're not afraid to take a puck off the boards and fire it in there. They're offensive defensemen, which is something I grew up witnessing."
Of late, Hendriks has witnessed a struggling Canadiens team that lost six straight before defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Reeling from the absences of injured goalie Carey Price and forward Brendan Gallagher, Montreal enters the Winter Classic 12-14-3 since starting the season 9-0-0.
"Obviously it's been a rough few weeks, but it's nothing that hasn't happened before," Hendriks said. "We're just waiting for a couple of those pins to fall and then we'll be off to the races again."