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IN DEPTH: The Best Laid Plans

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers
It was unfamiliar territory.

 
Kim Hendricks hung up the phone and started to digest the information her husband Matt had just told her. Then a forward with the Nashville Predators, he had just been traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
 
“We had two kids that just turned two, they turned two in November, and Matt got traded in January,” she said. “I had picked them up from pre-school and he called me as I was driving home and told me that he got traded. We got home, I got home with the kids, and literally two hours later he was gone. He was in Edmonton, I was in Nashville and everyone I knew was in Minnesota.”
 
Though shocking, it wasn’t the first time Kim and the family had to move. They had, after all, made the trek from Washington D.C. to Nashville with their then-18-month-old twins, after Hendricks was traded following three full seasons with the Washington Capitals.

Kim Hendricks (centre) with Washington Capitals' wives Rachel Fehr and Rachel Erskine help out during Toys for Tots drive before an NHL hockey game. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images).
“When we left D.C., we were [upset] to be leaving,” she explained. “We had really, really good friends there and we really liked where we lived. But… Matt was ready for a change and he got a great contract, so we were really excited about moving to Nashville.”
 
Prior to that, she and Matt had bounced around the American Hockey League (AHL) together, sans children, after she moved in with him during his time playing for the Rochester Americans.
 
Little did she know it was just the first of many moves to come.
 
After Hendricks’ first season in New York, they made their first move together to Hershey, Pennsylvania where Hendricks played for the Hershey Bears for the 2006-07 season.
 
There, Hendricks had a successful run, helping Hershey to the Calder Cup Final with 12 points in 19 playoff games. He was then signed by the Boston Bruins to a two-year contract in 2007 and was assigned to Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, where he scored a career-high 52 points in the 2007-08 season.
 
In June 2008, Hendricks was traded by the Bruins to the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche subsequently assigned him to their AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, for the 2008-09 season until he was recalled to Colorado on March 9, 2009.
 
“We were on a different team every year for six years,” Kim said. “I moved with him, packed up and set up shop and found a job and kind of just lived my life that way for six years.”

TREADING WATER

So, in 2014, as Kim found herself in Nashville with two-year-old twins and her husband leaving to live in another country, it was a situation she said she knew wouldn’t do her any good to just sit and be upset about.

Matt Hendricks as a Nashville Predator before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Photos Getty Images.
Being traded, after all, happens to most players within the National Hockey League. Besides, they had experienced it enough times in the AHL to know how it works, but Matt was fortunate enough that each trade came after a full season of hockey. Being uprooted mid-season was new for both of them.    
 
“[Matt] was very concerned about us and I just wanted him to not have to worry about anything and focus on fitting into a new team... So I just kind of took charge,” she said.
 
As Hendricks played out the rest of the 2013-14 season in Edmonton, Kim’s dad came down and drove her, Lennon, Gunnar and the family dogs back to Minnesota.
 
“I worked on getting our house sold from there, flew up to Edmonton for a weekend and [Matt and I] found a house here and we kind of just made it work,” she said.
 
As they moved into their seasonal home in Edmonton for the 2014-15 campaign, Kim said the first year in the city was probably the hardest. Having now experienced what it’s like to be traded midway through the season, Kim felt on edge when the NHL Trade Deadline approached.
 
“Because I had just been through it… I was kind of nervous around trade deadline,” she said. “There’s so much talk all the time. It’s so much different here in Canada because there’s such a focus on hockey, there really isn’t that much chatter about it with the other teams we had been on. When we were in D.C., there was a lot going on, but the media was not focusing on the Washington Capitals trade deadline, it was focussing on the President. In Nashville, it was all about country music and football.”
 
Despite her earlier trepidation, Kim said she no longer worries about potential trades.
 
“Every place is just what you make it,” she said. “If Matt were to get traded, the focus is for him to go and then he does his job and I do mine. I make sure that the kids are settled and my most important role right now is just making sure that they’re comfortable and that they don’t see any stress…. I just try to keep everything as completely normal for them as I can.”

STARTING OUT

Hendricks was drafted out of high school, selected in the fifth round, 131st overall, by the Predators in the 2000 NHL Draft. Ironically, he never played for the NHL club until signing as a free agent for the 2013-14 season.
 
“Once I was drafted by Nashville and realized that hey, I have a good chance to play in the NHL if everything falls in line [and] I do everything that I’m supposed to do, I really looked at St. Cloud as being a stepping stone for my hockey career,” said Hendricks.
 
Attending St. Cloud State University, Hendricks played four years of college hockey with the Huskies. It would be here where Kim, a political science and psychology freshman, met Matt, a junior, for the first time.
 
“At that time, I didn’t know a ton about hockey,” the Burnsville, Minnesota native admitted. “Minnesota is a hockey state but my family all played baseball. So I didn’t really understand what it took [to play pro]. It became more real to me when [Matt] left after his senior year season, so my second year. He left to go start playing pro and I stayed in school.”
 
Immediately after his senior year with the Huskies, Hendricks made his professional debut with the Predators AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, to close out the 2003-04 season.
 
Hendricks then became a free agent and signed with the ECHL Florida Everblades in 2004, which led to him signing a professional tryout agreement with the AHL's Lowell Lock Monsters that same season, appearing in 15 games.
 
By the time Hendricks started playing with the Rochester Americans in 2005, Kim had just graduated from St. Cloud State and he had played for three different teams in two years.

A BIG HEART

Fast-forward to present day, having played two-and-a-half seasons with the Oilers, Hendricks has made his presence known. Beloved by Oilers fans for his grit, toughness and leadership, his dedication and drive could easily exemplify the heart and soul of the Edmonton team.
 
Matt Hendricks has some fun with fans during a game against the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
“He drives our team when it comes to those intangibles of toughness and commitment level and pushing the envelope as far as fatigue and injury, bumps, bruises, sacrificing, I could go on and on in using all kinds of adjectives to describe him,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
 
And if it weren’t expressed in his exuberant celebrations or “Hendy Hugs”, you can certainly see it in the “war wounds” he sustains from blocking a shot or defending a teammate.
 
“The fights don’t really bother me that much,” Kim admitted. “This year [though] he almost got in a fight with [6-foot-5, 260-pound Winnipeg Jets defenceman] Dustin Byfuglien, and I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ That would not have gone well.
 
“But I think for the most part, what the majority of people don’t understand about fighting is that it isn’t just goons going out there and pounding each other. There’s a lot that goes into it. I mean, these guys know each other.”
 
It no longer surprises Kim, who long ago adjusted to the playing style of her husband, but there has been, on occasion, times when he makes her worry.
 
“Matt plays so hard and he’s just flying all over the place, he’s just never going to be one to get out of the way of a shot, he’s never going to be one to not make the hit,” she said. “I think that kind of play is what makes me more nervous. He’d block a shot with his face if he had to.”
 
In late December, Hendricks needed stitches to close up a gash on his right eye-lid after taking a stick near the eye. The scare was enough to make a slight equipment change, permanently adding a visor to his helmet.

Three weeks later, Hendricks blocked a slapshot in the groin area in a game against the Dallas Stars causing him to fall to the ice immediately. Luckily, his equipment saved him from an injury that could have been much worse than what his post-mangled protective cup kept him from enduring.
 
“That’s something our team needs — that’s something every team needs,” McLellan said of those sacrifices. “It’s not always about scoring the goals or being the first star or second star. It’s all those little things that often go unnoticed. Nobody would be talking about his blocked shot if a piece of equipment wasn’t destroyed.”
 
Kim said Hendricks’ rough-and-tumble, go-get-’em attitude may help work up the team, but it has even rubbed off on their four-and-a-half-year-old twins, Gunnar and Lennon, at home.
 
“It’s really funny because this is all they know of their dad,” she said. “Black eyes and stitches, they’re so used to it. It’s pretty funny. He has a scratch above his eye and they’re just like, ‘Oh, Daddy is that a hockey owie?’
 
“[Gunnar], my son, is just like Matt — he’s all boy. He’s rough-and-tumble, he’s going for it, he has a black eye or a bump on his face or scratch somewhere at all times. He’s hilarious because when we FaceTime [with Matt] he’s like, ‘Let me show dad my hockey owie.’
 
“[Lennon], my daughter, she fell playing and got a burn on her arm and she’s all, ‘Let’s tell dad how tough I was when I got this owie.’ It’s kind of funny because they have such a different mentality. They’ll take a spill off their bike and get up and say ‘I’m ok, I’m tough, I’m ok.’”
 
HENDRICKS’ HEROES

Matt (centre) and Kim (far right) take a picture with two military members and their guests for the Hendricks' Heroes program. Photo by Stephan Tonowski.
The Hendricks family’s efforts go far beyond the ice.
 
With the help of Cenovus and the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, Kim and Matt were able to establish Hendricks’ Heroes, an initiative they started working on prior to their arrival in Alberta.
 
“We did a Hendy’s Heroes in Washington and that was great,” said Kim, who explained they were first inspired by Defending The Blue Line — an initiative that works to ensure that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in the game of hockey — that Kim discovered during Hockey Week in Minnesota when she made a short trip home.
 
“We [had decided] we wanted to focus most of our attention on one specific charity that could make a big difference,” she said. “Matt’s dad was in the Marines. We both know people and have friends who have been in the military. We had always been involved in different charities.”
 
When Hendricks went on a United Service Organization overseas trip during the 2012-13 NHL lockout to entertain the troops, he travelled to Afghanistan, Bahrain, all over the Middle East and Germany, and made connections that only enhanced the couple’s desire to do more.
 
A commercial break during the Oilers game sees Hendricks' Heroes being recognized. Photo by Andy Devlin.
“It was hard,” Hendricks told Oilers TV during an interview. “It was a great enjoyment. I learned a lot but it was hard to see our men and women in the areas that they’re living in and the conditions that they’re living in because they’re really — they’re in a very tough area.” 
 
“[There] was just so many incredible opportunities to get involved with so many things and we just kind of kept it rolling,” said Kim.
 
Hendricks’ Heroes sees two military members and their guests brought to an Oilers game, presented with jerseys and a photo op with Matt, and then are taken to dinner by Kim before the game.
 
“Here in Edmonton we did 13 games where we hosted two military personnel and their guests,” said Kim. “They have [some of] the funniest stories but you [also] get that sense of camaraderie right away and they’re so humble and so happy to be there. Every time, we hear that. This is the very least anybody can do to show our thanks and support. It’s always such a great experience.”

IT'S THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION

Matt Hendricks with daughter Lennon and son Gunnar. (Twitter.)
During the hockey season, it seems as though the Hendricks family is in a state of go-go-go, but in between all of Matt’s games and practices, Gunnar and Lennon’s school and Kim’s community involvement, they’ve found a balance that works for their family.
 
“We’ve gotten to the point now where our date nights, what we enjoy doing, is dinner with the kids at home, have wine and catch up on our TV shows,” said Kim. “We spend a lot of time at our kitchen island, having wine and listening to music and talking… We’re homebodies.”
 
Their time to decompress comes at the end of the season where they get the chance to pack up and return home to Minnesota to see relatives they’ve missed all year long, and make up for lost time with friends and neighbours.
 
“He would love to stay here and play ’til June, believe me,” Kim stressed. “But as soon as he’s done hockey, his boat is calling his name and he’s ready to get on the water and go fishing.
 
“During the hockey season, he’s so passionate and so involved. With Matt, it’s 100 per cent or he has to completely step away from it. He’s either all in or he has to completely focus on something else.”
 
If you had told Kim 10 years ago that she would be a hockey mom at a rink in Canada, she said her immediate response would be, “You’re crazy.”
 
Kim Hendricks (left) helps out at a community event with the EOCF. Photo by Andy Devlin.
“I had intentions of going to law school and being a hotshot lawyer and I was going to be living in a condo downtown, working 80 hours a week,” she said.
 
Now living a stark contrast from how she once envisioned her future self, Kim said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
 
“I could never picture myself as a stay-at-home mom but I love it. I love being super involved, I love being there and seeing all the stuff that they get to do. It’s really just been a case of, God will give you the best laid plans. We never planned for any of this to happen.
 
“I’ve really learned so much about myself. Never did I think I could live on my own with two two-year-olds while my husband lives in another country, and facilitate a move from Tennessee to Edmonton, and I was able to do it.”
 
From working on Hendricks’ Heroes, to lending a helping hand with EOCF events, Kim is actively involved in the community, on top of parenting the twins. It’s been a whirlwind adventure for Kim and Matt, but one, it seems, they wouldn’t trade for anything.

By Meg Tilley/Edmontonoilers.com

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