The New Captain America

As USA Hockey Embraces A Youth Movement On International Ice, NHL Veteran Matt Hendricks Is Happy To Lead By Example
By: 
Scott Powers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some players fly so far under the radar they aren’t even household names in their own homes. They quietly go about their business, happy to toil in anonymity and let their teammates own the spotlight.
And while they may be relatively unknown outside of their own locker rooms, their teammates and coaches fully appreciate their importance to the team.

Matt Hendricks is one of those players.

He’s been an honest, hard-working player with enough skills to play in nearly 500 career NHL regular-season games, an achievement he’ll likely reach this season.

Now in his 10th season in the league, the Blaine, Minn., native has earned the reputation of being a player willing to do anything to help his team win.

“Boy, would I love to have a team full of Matt Hendricks,” said Dallas Eakins, who coached him for two years with the Edmonton Oilers. “I don’t know who his coaches were on his way up, but they sure did a hell of a job.”

That reputation has made him a valuable member on U.S. National teams that are trending younger in recent years to enable some of its most promising up-and-coming stars a chance to play on a world stage.
Hendricks, who has served as team captain of the last two U.S. entries at the IIHF Men’s World Championships, understands USA Hockey’s goal and is more than happy to be the role model the program needs him to be.

“He’s taken on his role on these teams in such an appreciative and genuine way,” Jim Johannson, USA Hockey assistant executive director, said at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia.

“He’s an all-win teammate. He’s a guy who plays hard and will block shots and do all those things, no matter what the situation calls for. I think he’s embraced the idea of bringing out the best in everybody.”
As the elder statesman, he shared a dressing room with rising stars like Jack Eichel in 2015 and Auston Matthews in 2016, players he has more than a decade on.

“Obviously, I feel a little bit older, but at the same time I pull a lot of energy from them,” Hendricks said with a laugh.

“I look at [my role] as an opportunity to pass on leadership qualities. If one or two of these guys somewhere down the road becomes a guy that is playing into his 30s and brings leadership into a locker room, then I would take pride in that. Hopefully he learned a little bit of that  from me along the way.”
Hendricks’ words and actions have been seen and heard by his younger teammates.

“I think he brings even more to his role than he thinks he does,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who was a teammate with Hendricks the past two years at the World Championships.

“He’s a great player for us, brings offense, brings special skills to our penalty kill. In the room, he helps all of us and sets the tone on how to be a professional and how to prepare games and how to be a good teammate.”

USA Hockey has been about developing players at the World Championships, but there’s also still been a desire to win. Hendricks helped accomplish that mission as U.S. surprised many in the hockey world by defeating the Czech Republic on its home ice to win a bronze medal in 2015.

Ray Shero, an original member of the U.S. Men’s National Team Advisory Group, praised Hendricks for his role in bringing home a meda;.

“Matt is an unbelievable leader. He’s got a lot of pride. A lot of guys rallied around him,” said Shero, the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. “For a guy like him, he really, really deserved every accolade he got because he was all in. It was fun to see. He did everything he could to help that team win from blocking shots, killing penalties, scoring a goal. That’s what we needed from a guy who couldn’t have been more proud to have been here.”

Early in his career, Hendricks was regularly bypassed by USA Hockey in favor of forwards with skills better suited for international ice. But heart and character can’t easily be measured by analytics. In the end, it’s all about what Hendricks can do for his country.

“This gives me an opportunity to give a little to USA Hockey that I didn’t get to do earlier in my career,” Hendricks said.

“That’s a good feeling. To be honest, my kids love it. They love the USA. They love to put their USA jerseys on and watch the game. For me, that means everything.”

Scott Powers is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
Issue: 
2016-11

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