How much of an impression did Matt Hendricks leave on the Capitals in the three years he played here?
Enough to spend an entire night fist-pumping, wise-cracking, hand shaking and body slamming his former teammates.
After playing his first game against the Caps since signing with the Predators on July 5, Hendricks was literally the last player on the team bus out of the VerizonCenter parking lot, stopping to share hugs and a few laughs with everyone from the Capitals’ training and equipment staff to security personnel at the arena.
“It was fun to see all the guys,” Hendricks said after the Capitals’ 4-1 win Wednesday night. “But when the game starts there’s all these emotions.
“One of my best buddies is [Caps defenseman] Karl Alzner. I know it’s preseason, but the puck’s dumped in his corner. Do I want to run him? It’s kind of my job, so I gotta do it. But you think about it.”
So what did Hendricks do? He yelled, “Heads up” before plowing Alzner into the boards. Not once or twice, but three times.
“It’s second nature for me,” Hendricks said. “You gotta be a pro and you’ve got to do what you’re paid to do.”
“That’s Hendy,” Alzner said. “Everybody loves him.”
After the game, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was one of the first Capitals to meet with Hendricks in the hallway that separates the two locker rooms.
“It feel kind of weird,” Ovechkin said. “I skate by the bench and see his face joking around. I talk to him before the game on the ice. He was a great player here, a great teammate and we have good relationship.
“He have good relationship with everybody. Of course we miss him, but it’s a business and we wish him good luck out there. I hope he’s gonna do well.”
Nashville general manager David Poile drafted Hendricks 131st overall in the 2000 draft and saw him develop into a solid fourth-line center capable of killing penalties and protecting his teammates.
“We wish we would have signed him back then,” he said. “The character, the leadership, the passion, the love for the game he brings is important because this is a pretty young club and it’s the right time for him to come to us. He gives us a lot of intangibles.”
Hendricks and the Predators will spent the next two days practicing at the NavalAcademy hockey rink in Annapolis, where they will also participate in military-style team building exercises before catching an Orioles game at Camden Yards.
He said he has nothing but good wishes for his former team, at least until the Caps and Predators meet again Dec. 7 in Washington.
“I really enjoyed my time here and it’s the people, the good friends, that I’ll miss the most,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, [the Caps] played good. They’re a good-looking team right now.”