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PRINCIPE: The Hendy 500

In his latest blog, Gene Principe talks about Matt Hendricks getting his 500th NHL game

by Gene Principe / EdmontonOilers.com

Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers took on the Calgary Flames in this season's final Battle of Alberta. The storylines going into it were many.

First off, it's Edmonton and Calgary - enough said. Secondly, both teams are battling for playoff position. Laurent Brossoit was getting his first start of the season and looking for his first NHL win, as he battles to establish himself in the NHL.

One other point with personal significance was a milestone for Matt Hendricks. He battled to make it to the National Hockey League and he could take some satisfaction in playing the 500th of his NHL career.

While we often look at 1000 games as a sign of ultimate longevity, consider the fact only 306 players have reached that elusive number in regular season games. Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, leads the way with 1,767, while Bernie Federko played exactly 1000 games.

Hendricks hit half as much Saturday night but it might mean more than twice as much to him considering his career path. In high school he won a state championship and moved onto college where he played for St.Cloud State. He was drafted in 2000 and started his steady climb in pro hockey.

He played in Florida, but it was with the Everblades of the ECHL. In the AHL, the winger was on teams in Milwaukee, Lowell, Rochester, Hershey, Providence and Lake Erie before finally make it to the NHL with Colorado during the 2008-2009 season.

"It was four games" said Hendricks "I was 27 years old and I didn't play my first full season until I was 28. My dream was to get to the NHL. I had a hunger to make the team and Adam Foote (former Avalanche captain) told me something I never forgot. 'Now that you've made it, the hardest thing is to stay here.'"

Hendricks has done that ever since he started with Colorado.

There were 3 seasons in Washington, half of one in Nashville and now Hendricks is on season 4 with Edmonton.

"He's definitely an upbeat, talkative guy" is how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins described his teammate.

"He's a guy that does what he needs to do" said Nugent-Hopkins. "He puts in extra effort and he's usually here before anyone else. He is a good example of what it takes to play in this league at his age."

His age will be 36 this summer. Not old, but experienced - yet still able to bridge the gap with players who are almost a decade and a half younger than him.

"Right from the get-go he was very open and communicating with younger guys."

Those are the words of 22-year-old rookie Drake Caggiula. He got to know his most senior teammate in a fast and furious fashion as both were injured early in the season.

"Matt took me under his wing and helped keep me sane as I was going thru the injury. Matt and Kim had me over for dinner and took me out for lunch."

It's words like that which help explain a player who is about much more than just his goals, assists and points. His motto is to change the game in anyway he can. It could happen with a goal, which he had vs. Nashville. There's the fight with Brendan Dillon in San Jose when he stepped in to replace Zack Kassian. The countless blocked shots, which included a broken cup in Dallas.

His ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup. When I asked if he would keep anything as a reminder of his 500th NHL game this was Hendricks response:

"I don't think I will. I'd rather just be in the room celebrating a win with the guys."

He got what he wanted in The Hendy 500.

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