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Perseverance pays dividends for Hendricks

by John Manasso /
Matt Hendricks had set a deadline.

If he reached the age of 30 and hadn't made it in the NHL, he was going to play in Europe. Many other players do it. In the right country, the pay and lifestyle are better than what they are in the American Hockey League. He had a family and kids to worry about.

He was 29. Originally drafted in the fifth round in 2000, he stayed in school and played four seasons at St. Cloud State in his native Minnesota. He made stops in the AHL in Milwaukee, Lowell, Rochester, Hershey, Providence and Lake Erie. There also was a stint in the ECHL with Florida during the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05.

All of that can get to be too much for a hockey player, even if he's chasing the dream.

"I had to start looking towards financial support, things of that nature," Hendricks said. "But I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by great players, coaches and teachers who believed in me and kept pushing me, and I'm happy I stayed the course."

As fate would have it, 29 proved to be the magic number. Hendricks caught on with the Avalanche last season and became a dependable energy-line player who brought grit and added some production, too, with 9 goals, 7 assists and 74 penalty minutes while finishing plus-1 in 56 games. This season he has been a regular with Washington, which is attempting to transition from an offensive-first mentality to more of a two-way game.

For the Capitals, he has 7 goals, 8 assists and 73 penalty minutes. His 11 fighting majors place him in a tie for eighth-most in the NHL, according to

"Hendy is a guy who can play any [forward] position and play in all situations. He brings a lot of energy and he's well liked by his teammates."
-- Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau on Matt Hendricks

"He's been everything we hoped he'd be when we brought him in," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Hendy is a guy who can play any [forward] position and play in all situations. He brings a lot of energy and he's well liked by his teammates."

For a lunch-pail type of player, Hendricks also has shown a flair for breakaways and the shootout, although not always in the way he would prefer. Early last season at the United Center, he faked a wrist shot and attempted to go backhand and slide the puck in -- his patented move -- but toe-picked and went head first into Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet, causing the net to dislodge.

"Puck ended up rolling on me," Hendricks said. "Goalie did a poke-check. I ended up in the back of the net. The puck didn't. Twenty-five thousand [people] ended up laughing at me. It was kind of an embarrassing feeling."

Somehow, however, it seems that when a player has worked as hard as Hendricks has to earn a roster spot in the NHL, he would have an easier time laughing off a moment like that. A few months later, Hendricks tried the move again and this time it worked against Buffalo's Patrick Lalime. Maybe perseverance comes natural to Hendricks.

Shootouts, on the other hand, are learned. The move is something that he picked up from his high school coach, former NHLer Scott Bjugstad, while playing in Blaine, Minn., about 40 miles north of the Twin Cities. For a player with 16 career NHL goals, he's 2-for-3 in the shootout. Not bad.

"He's shown good hands on these breakaways and shootouts," said Boudreau, whose options in shootouts include Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom. "I think he was more surprised than us on the one in Toronto (a breakaway goal in a 4-1 win on Jan. 22) -- we've all seen it before in practice."

Said fellow Capitals teammate Scott Hannan who also played with him in Colorado last season: "He's had some good moves. He's got some good hands for a rock head. I mean that in a loving way."

Recently, the guy with the "rock head" hit a bit of a hot streak. He followed up the Toronto game, in which he was an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick, with a goal in a second straight game against the Rangers on Jan. 24. Considering that Hendricks was not included in the Caps' media guide, this season has to count as a success thus far.

"Those few games, it's a credit to my linemates," he said of the recent goals. "Puck just seems to be going in. It's a nice feeling."

With so many minor league travels, Hendricks has played with a litany of players. During the work stoppage he played on the same team with Eric Staal, Chuck Kobasew, Chad LaRose, Mike Commodore and Mark Giordano. It wasn't a long stint, so he doesn't chat them up when he sees them -- just a quick hello.

Hendricks is hoping that his career in the NHL lasts longer than that.

"It's a credit to him," Hannan said. "He's battled, he's worked hard his whole career. It's good when you see guys like that get a chance and he's really taken it upon himself. … He does what it takes. He's constantly talking about the little things you have to do to win games. You always hear about it, he's one of those guys who does it every game."
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