June 18, 2019

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Hendricks's contribution to Jets remains prominent among players

ST. PAUL — He may now play for a division rival, but former Winnipeg Jets forward Matt Hendricks isn't above still dishing out the occasional assist to an old teammate.

Take earlier this season for example. Winnipeg's Brendan Lemieux was under fire — from the public, the media and even his own coach — after taking a pair of reckless penalties during a game against Florida Panthers that came back to bite both him and the Jets. His team gave up a crucial power-play goal on the way to defeat, and Lemieux was suspended by the NHL for two games for a blindside head shot that put his already tenuous place in the lineup in peril.

It was the darkest moment of Lemieux's young professional career. But then his good pal "Hendy" reached out to reassure him the world wasn't ending.

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Wild forward Matt Hendricks, seen here in front of former Jets teammate Jacob Trouba during a game Dec. 29, was a big part of the Winnipeg locker room last season.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Wild forward Matt Hendricks, seen here in front of former Jets teammate Jacob Trouba during a game Dec. 29, was a big part of the Winnipeg locker room last season.

ST. PAUL — He may now play for a division rival, but former Winnipeg Jets forward Matt Hendricks isn't above still dishing out the occasional assist to an old teammate.

Take earlier this season for example. Winnipeg's Brendan Lemieux was under fire — from the public, the media and even his own coach — after taking a pair of reckless penalties during a game against Florida Panthers that came back to bite both him and the Jets. His team gave up a crucial power-play goal on the way to defeat, and Lemieux was suspended by the NHL for two games for a blindside head shot that put his already tenuous place in the lineup in peril.

It was the darkest moment of Lemieux's young professional career. But then his good pal "Hendy" reached out to reassure him the world wasn't ending.

"I talked to him a little bit about it after," Hendricks revealed Thursday prior to his Minnesota Wild taking on Lemieux's Jets at Xcel Energy Center.

So what did he tell Lemieux?

"You gotta take every situation at this level and try to learn from it, all your experiences. But Brendan’s the type of player that needs to play on that line. He’s a physical player. He plays with a lot of energy. And if he doesn’t do that he won’t have a job, so it’s important for him to walk a line but play on the smart side, the safe side," said Hendricks.

"When they start taking money out of your cheque every two weeks (for the suspension) it buggers you up pretty bad. You don’t want to be known as that guy. It hurts."

Lemieux eventually regained the trust of his teammates and coaching staff, got back into the lineup and has played 27 games this season, with three goals and two assists to show for it.

"Hendy's obviously a great friend and a mentor," said Lemieux. "Hendy was a leader for our team and I think his impact resonates, even this year."

There's no greater example of that then the relationship between the 37-year-old Hendricks — a gritty, hard-working veteran and all-around character human being who is still in the NHL despite what he would admit are more limited skills than most — and the brash, confident but inexperienced 22-year-old Lemieux.

"I saw he scored twice in Edmonton (on New Year's Eve in a 4-3 Jets win). That’s great for him. Brendan’s a hard worker, he’s a kid who really wants it, he wants to be in the NHL and he wants to not just be a guy that gets a jersey, but a guy that contributes every night. You know, I’m happy for him that things are starting to go better for him," said Hendricks.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice believes Hendricks's contributions went far beyond the five goals and eight assists he put up in 60 regular-season games with the Jets last season.

"He did that for so many of our young players and it’s there. Even some of the phrases that are used on the bench and some of the terms he came up with, we use. He had an impact. He just fit the room and he fit the personality of the players. He was gregarious and certainly a real strong mentor for those young players. We got full value of having Matty with us," said Maurice.

"It was exactly what we needed. A young team that got younger again, in part, because we had some confidence in these young men in their development and he had an impact on that."

Hendricks wasn't re-signed by the Jets, who opted to move on from the unrestricted free agent as they continued to inject youth into their lineup. There's no hard feelings, despite the fact he views last season as one of the greatest of his 11-year career, which includes 598 NHL games.

"To make it as far as we did, to be going into the start of the season in training camp with the fans and the media’s expectations of us and what kind of a team are we going to be this year, we really gelled, we came together as a group. It’s incredible what can happen when a team does that. We were proof of it last season," said Hendricks.

He signed a one-year, US$700,000 deal with the Wild last summer that allowed him to play in his home state, perhaps for a final pro season. While he's only dressed for 17 games this season — his lone point was an assist against the Jets in Winnipeg last month — Hendricks has no regrets.

"Being with my family, No. 1, has been outstanding. Always fun to play in front of friends and family, for sure. My parents make it to a lot of games now. My sister and her family have made it to a few games, so that’s great," he said.

"You want to be winning more games and you want to be playing a bit more, that’s kind of the selfish personal side of it. But we’ve got a great group of guys in here, we’re for the most part a pretty veteran team, so I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity."

Hendricks still keeps a close eye on the Jets, along with regular contact with several players including Lemieux, who is living in his old condo. Hendricks believes they're built for long-term success and isn't surprised to see captain Blake Wheeler and No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele take major strides yet again.

"Because of their work ethic, the way they are students of the game and pride themselves on being the hardest workers at practice every single day. They’re definitely the drivers in that locker room," he said.

"Obviously my time in Winnipeg was incredible and outstanding, so it was hard to leave there with what we put together last season."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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