Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Hendricks spent only three seasons with the Washington Capitals, but he left quite an impression.
Hendricks did all the unpleasant tasks for the Capitals: fore checking, shot blocking, penalty killing. What's more, he was willing to complete these dangerous tasks while already injured. Hendricks spoke to Mike Vogel of the Monumental Network's Dump 'N Chase blog about how a now-legendary incident from the 2011-12 season in which he was unfazed by a rather gruesome injury:
We were in groups. There’s a group taking some shots at one end, and we were out by the blueline working on our face-offs. [Alex Ovechkin] took a shot and missed the net a little high. It hit the glass and came out. We all know how hard he shoots; it ended up catching me in the ear. It wasn’t direct, but from what he says it was picking up speed on the glass. It hit me and it was kind of surprising. It felt like somebody came up and hit me in the head with a baseball bat. It stunned me. I realized I was bleeding and pain was setting in. I knew it wasn’t good. I was pretty upset. I was thinking of all the worst possible injuries I could have had and I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be that bad. The immediate thing I did was to go to a mirror to see how bad it was. It was pretty funny once the guys started coming off the ice. Their comments weren’t too comforting. They made it sound like it was a lot worse than it really was.
Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports then explained how Hendricks played the very next day in a matinee against the arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Hendricks took a big hit from Penguins defender Zbynek Michalek and still received the most ice time in his career, up to that point. Wyshynksi opined that Hendrick's severed ear deserved to enter the "pantheon of groteqsue hockey injuries."
Hendricks was prone to suffer even more injuries while fulfilling his role as a hockey fighter, a role he did not shy away from in the least. At 6' 0", 211 pounds, Hendricks is a middleweight, at best. But he consistently fought up in class, further showing his toughness. On March 16, 2013 in Boston, Hendricks had already fought Nathan Horton (6' 2", 229). Later in the game, Hendricks actually declined to fight Shawn Thornton (6' 2", 217) and instead, chose to fight Adam McQuaid (6' 4", 197) in the same sequence.
Hendricks endeared himself to teammates and fans alike for his willingness to fight larger opponents not simply because he wanted to, but because his team needed him to. The best example of this came on January 18, 2012. The Capitals were playing the Montreal Canadiens for the first time since they acquired Rene Bourque from the Calgary Flames. Bourque was playing with the Flames on January 3, 2012 when he elbowed Nicklas Backstrom in the head, forcing him to miss 40 games with a concussion.
With Backstrom still out of the lineup on January 18, Hendricks fought Bourque as retribution, and it wasn't even close. Bourque is 6' 2", 213 pounds, and is good with his hands. Hendricks lost easily, as he took one for the team.
Fans received an in-depth look into Hendricks's life as a hockey fighter on HBO's 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic, during the 2010-11 season. Scott Stinson of The National Post described a telling scene from the second episode:
The Capitals enforcer gets treatment for an eye injury suffered in a fight with Sean Avery in a game that ended Episode 1. In high-definition, that is one nasty-looking eye: red and bloody, with several stitches having sewn up a cut. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau tells Hendricks that he doesn’t have to fight every night. “Let someone else do that tonight,” he says. But with his battered face already telling a story, Hendricks explains to the camera that he didn’t intend to be a fighter. “It comes down to I want a job, I want a career,” he says. He had a good year last year, he says, but he spent most of it in the minors. “I had to figure out a way to make the opening night roster,” he says. “A good friend of men said ‘you gotta fight. If you don’t someone else will.’ I kind of stick by that motto now.”
Tough way to earn a living.