DENVER | Matt Hendricks has fond memories of playing for the Colorado Avalanche, the team that gave him his first shot in the NHL. So it’s only fitting that he returns to the Washington Capitals lineup on Saturday night in the same arena that he played in to make his debut at this level.
“I’ve been looking forward to making my return to Denver for a hockey game for a while now,” Hendricks said in the visiting locker room at Pepsi Center. “It’s exciting. I’ve got to try to keep it simple tonight and just try to do all the little things properly.”
Hendricks missed four games with a right knee injury suffered Dec. 5 at the Florida Panthers.
“It’s tough. I haven’t sat out that many games in a while,” he said. “I want to get back, I look forward to getting back and helping this team win hockey games.”
Hendricks will take his usual place on the fourth line Saturday night, skating alongside Mathieu Perreault and Mike Knuble. The 30-year-old said he saw more of what was going on and mistakes being made from watching in the press box than he can on the bench and intends on trying to put what he learned into practice.
Like everyone else, coach Dale Hunter knows what to expect from Hendricks in his return.
“He’ll give us energy and he works his tail off,” Hunter said. “We need him to create energy and forecheck hard.”
After being out for four games, getting into a rhythm early is a key. Short shifts are usually one of the major elements for any player who is trying to get his legs under him, but in this Mile High game it’s especially essential.
“Obviously you want to get your feet wet – especially at this altitude you don’t want to get caught out there too long because recovery’s pretty tough,” said Hendricks, who used to be familiar with the altitude. “It helps but not being here for a long time you pretty much lose any advantage, that’s for sure.”
Hendricks played with a lot of guys still on the Avalanche, including Cody McLeod and T.J. Galiardi, among a handful of others. And though he has good memories of playing in Colorado, his debut on March 9, 2009 featured one shot he wishes he had back.
“Came out of the penalty box, got kind of a short little breakaway, hit the crossbar,” he said. “I wish that one would’ve went in, that would’ve been a lot of fun.”
Since leaving Colorado, Hendricks has carved out a niche as a full-time NHL player. But he’s still grateful for the chance.
“I had a lot of great times, made a lot of great friends,” he said. “I’m very thankful to the Denver organization to give me the opportunity to start my NHL career.”