Matt Hendricks of the Florida Everblades sits atop the ECHL rookie leaderboard with 21 goals, 24 assists for 45 points in 48 games. He not only participated in the ECHL All-Star game, he was voted a starter for the American Conference.
The 6’0, 205-pound forward is a product of St. Cloud State, where in his best season he scored over a point a game skating on the team’s Olympic-sized ice. The 23-year-old is a native of Blaine, Minnesota and is under contract with the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters, affiliate to the Everblades. He was a draft pick of the Nashville Predators in 2000.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Hendricks at Gwinnett at the end of another long road trip. After the 14-hour bus ride home, he and his Everblades will have just two days to rest before getting right back at it.
HF: Obviously you’ve been having a great year, did you surprise yourself a bit?
MH: A little bit, stat-wise, I think. I didn’t expect to be doing quite as well as I’m doing right now, but I expected to come in and chip some goals in, be on the power play. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some very good hockey players, some very skilled players. My game is going to the net and they seem to be getting me the puck and that’s how it’s going right now.
HF: Do you think the pro game suits your style a little better than college?
MH: Oh, definitely. I’m kind of a bigger guy, I tend to play a little more positional. I’m not the run and gun guy that’s going to be stickhandling in and out of people, things like that. Playing on the smaller ice surface has really helped me, not just because of skating, but because it’s easier to read the play. I don’t get as tired, things like that.
HF: This has been a sort of magical season, has anything gone wrong for you at all?
MH: Not so much. I’m starting to get a little tired right now, the season is starting to take a toll. In college I think the most I played in one year was maybe 41 games. I think after tonight it’s been 48. I’m starting to get tired, but that’s a mental thing, you’ve got to fight through it. I’ve been watching the older guys, we’ve got great leadership on this team, trying to read how they adjust during the long season and how they’re taking care of their bodies.
HF: You were voted to the ECHL All-Star game, how did that go for you?
MH: I had a good time, I met a lot of players. It’s nice to put a guy’s characteristics with a name, get to know their personality a little better. But that’s not really my style of a game (laughs). I had fun though, it was a good time.
HF: You’re at the top of the rookie leaderboard, if you’re still here you have a chance at the Rookie of the Year. What would that mean to you?
MH: It would be a nice accolade. This is a real good league. Last year my linemate and roommate for two or three years at college Jon Cullen (was the rookie scoring leader) in Atlantic City, so to win that after him, I mean it’s still a long season, but it would be pretty nice to have. (Note: Kevin Doell, third in total scoring, was awarded the Rookie of the Year award)
HF: You seem like you’ve made decisions on where to play based on where you will get a lot of ice time. Was that a big factor in you ending up with Florida?
MH: Yes, sort of. My coach, Craig Dahl, in St. Cloud is good friends, business friends, with Craig Brush, the owner/GM of the Everblades. I was kind of having a hard time finding where I was going to go. I was really looking at Europe, but I decided it would be tough to go to Europe because I don’t know how difficult it would be to get back to playing in the States and reach my dream of hopefully playing in the NHL someday. So we figured the best route would be to go to the American League, AHL camp in Lowell. It was a disappointment to me to get sent down to the East Coast, but at the same time, I’m lucky to be playing where I’m playing, and playing with the players that I’m playing with. The ice time’s been great, I’m probably developing twice as much as if I was playing in the American League just because of the guys that Lowell has. It’s been a great season so far, we just need to stick to little things to get us going back on the right track.
HF: You get a lot of time on the power play here, do you ever play on the PK as well?
MH: Not really. I played on it early, but the coach seemed to think with the way I play I tend to get a little tired and that kind of takes away from my game.
HF: Florida has some of the worst travel in the league, what part of that is the worst for you?
MH: You know what, I don’t really have a problem with it, I don’t mind it as much. We’ve got a great bus, it’s a sleeper. So far every one of our trips we’ve left at midnight, so you just kind of get on the bus and fall asleep, wake up the next day at the rink you’re practicing at. It hasn’t been a real big deal for me.
HF: What do you feel like you still need to work on in your game?
MH: Mentally I always need to work on my game. I’m the kind of player that plays with a lot of emotion. Sometimes my emotion can take over in a game. That results in bad penalties or being out of position. That’s always something I need to work on. I’d like to work on my positioning, I can better at always knowing and always being in the area I need to be and reading the play a little bit better.
HF: The NHL lockout is affecting everyone, including you, how do you feel now that we’re on the eve of the deadline?
MH: Being a rookie, I don’t understand, I don’t know very much. All I know is that I was a fan for 22 years before this season and I know how hard it is back home in Minnesota with no NHL and no hockey to watch on TV every night. It’s tough. I value watching games just as much as anyone else because I learn from it. I feel I’m losing that, it’s kind of like I’m being let down in my development right now. Hopefully the guys up top can get it figured out.
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