Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2014-15 NHL season, USA Hockey Magazine will periodically highlight American-born players. In our most recent discussion we talk with Edmonton Oilers forward Matt Hendricks.
Selected in the fourth round (131st) overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Matt Hendricks has skated for the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators before joining his current squad, the Edmonton Oilers. A Minnesotan to the core, his style of play has evolved over the years en route to the NHL through inspiration and self-discovery.
When did you start playing hockey in Minnesota?
I think I started messing around with it around the age of 4. Organized hockey, my first team I was on I was 6 in kindergarten.
Did you play any other sports besides hockey when you were in grade school/middle school? When and why did you ultimately decide to focus in hockey?
Grade school [and] middle school I played hockey in the winter, baseball in the summer, football and indoor soccer in the fall. Through high school I played baseball and football as well. I was a decent enough athlete in football and baseball as well, but I just really enjoyed practicing hockey. I didn’t love football practice, I didn’t love baseball practice… but hockey practice never seemed like practice to me. It seemed like it was always fun no matter what we were doing.
What is our most vivid memory of playing hockey as a youngster?
My first state tournament in ’99 [when] we won consolation. In 2000, my senior year, we won the state tournament. It was definitely one of my best hockey moments still to this day.
You chose to play at St. Cloud State University. What made you choose the Huskies versus another path to the pros?
My mom was a third grade teacher and education was important to her. Over time it became important to me as well. I chose the college route because a lot of people ahead of me had done that where I grew up and looked up to that were upperclassmen and such. I wanted to stay in state, so I checked out all the schools in Minnesota. St. Cloud seemed to be the best fit for me, and it was an hour drive from home, so it was close, but not too close.
You spent time in the WCHA, AHL and ECHL. How did playing at each level help you mold into the player you are today?
College first taught me how to grow up a bit. High school hockey, they said ‘go get the puck and go score goals.’ I got to college and that didn’t work anymore so I had to learn how to play a fundamental game, learn how to play a system game, different positions. When I got to the ECHL, it was a lot of the same. I looked at myself s the same type of player I was in college: power forward, the guy who can score goals, who can play power play, can play penalty kill. It took me four or five years in the minors to become an NHL player. I wasn’t going to be a power forward in the NHL. I was going to have to be more of a grinder, more of an energy guy, a guy who wasn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates and go that route, because scoring goals in the minors didn’t help me get to the NHL.
Were there one or two NHL players that you looked up to when you were a young kid? Or was there anyone in particular you tried to model your game after?
I was a big Minnesota North Stars fan growing up. Dino Ciccarelli was one of my favorite players as a kid. As I got older, Joe Sakic was a guy I looked up to. I wore 19 for a lot of years in the minors because of him. I always wanted to be him, but knew deep down I was never going to have the skill set he had.
How much have small area games been incorporated into your practices at both the collegiate and professional level? What types of skills have you taken away from those situations?
More so before pro hockey I did a lot of that stuff in college and a little bit more of it in the minors, but the NHL level I haven’t really done. It’s really more about practicing systems and the fundamentals of team play than it is actual skill development.
At some point, there is a life after hockey for every professional – any thoughts as to what you’d like to do down the road?
There’s a number of things that pop up in my head, but I try not to think about it. Trying to put that as far back in my mind as possible.
What advice would you give a young 10-year-old kid playing youth hockey who aspires to play Junior, college or even professional hockey?
Like I say to my three kids at home. There are three rules: always get up when you fall down, always make sure you’re having fun and working hard. Those are three things that I think can help any young kid develop.