For Blaine's Matt Hendricks, joining Wild 'a dream come true'
ST. PAUL — At 37, Matt Hendricks knows his days in the NHL are numbered. That means time has long been running out for the 12-year veteran to lace up the skates for the hometown team.
Originally from Blaine, Minn., Hendricks grew up cheering for the North Stars before the franchise relocated to Dallas, and he was just starting college at St. Cloud State when the Wild came to town.
So to finally get the chance to play in the Twin Cities after signing a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Wild on Sunday afternoon, Hendricks is ecstatic to say the least.
"It's a dream come true," Hendricks said. "I've got a big smile ear to ear."
New Wild general manager Paul Fenton targeted Hendricks in the week or so leading up to free agency. Fenton was part of the Nashville Predators front office that selected Hendricks out of Blaine High School in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Draft, and while Hendricks never signed with the team, Fenton has kept an eye on him ever since.
"Just the character that he brings both on and off the ice, and being a local guy from here that can have that influence on our younger players, was really a critical part that we identified awhile ago," Fenton said. "We are very happy to have him on board."
Hendricks started his career with the Colorado Avalanche before signing with the Washington Capitals, where he endeared himself to coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau was one of the biggest supporters in the campaign to bring Hendricks to the Twin Cities, and the feelings appear to be mutual.
"That guy sure knows how to win hockey games," Hendricks said of the Wild coach. "I've got a lot of really good things to say about Bruce. I really enjoyed playing for him and look forward to playing for him again."
Hendricks also played for Nashville, the Edmonton Oilers and most recently the Winnipeg Jets, the team that knocked the Wild out in the first round of the playoffs.
"You saw what he did as an influence (with the Jets)," Fenton said. "We are hoping he can contribute that same way to us."
Hendricks is realistic about what his role with the Wild will be. He likely will be the extra forward on most nights next season, and if that's the case, he's ready for it.
Still, that doesn't mean he won't fight for playing time.
"You never want to be comfortable with it," Hendricks said. "It's my job to show up at practice every day and push guys for ice time. You want that internal competition. It's not a hidden agenda by any means. We want everybody pushing as hard as they can, and that's my personal goal, to get in and try to earn an opportunity. ... On the reverse side of that, I totally understand when younger guys beat me out for ice time, and I'm going to have their back 100 percent."
Hendricks prides himself on being a "jack-of-all-trades" on the ice, someone who can play multiple position up front, take faceoffs and contribute on the penalty kill. His reputation is of being as a good locker-room guy as there is in the league, a role that could make him invaluable next season.
"It's a very good team, and I'm excited to be a part of it," Hendricks said. "They have higher expectations for themselves in the playoffs as far as they've gotten in the past. I'm excited to be here and try to win."