He’ll be watching the action instead of participating in it, but what won’t be changing for Matt Hendricks now that he’s retired from playing hockey is helping guide the sport’s up-and-coming talent.
“That’s where I think it kind of becomes a seamless transition,” Hendricks said, “in the sense this is where I think I’ve been in my career the last three years.”
After suiting up for 11 seasons in the NHL, including the majority of his last one in Minnesota, Hendricks joined the Wild as its assistant director of player development earlier this week — a role that enables him to stay connected to the game he loves while being home with his family.
“I’ve been fortunate with the career I’ve had that I’ve played in a lot of good organizations and would be happy to work with any and all of them,” Hendricks said. “But to be in Minnesota’s special. I grew up here. I learned to play here, and it’s a great feeling.”
Over the past few seasons, Hendricks started to wonder what his life would look like when he stopped playing.
What he was sure about was that he wanted his future to involve hockey.
Cue General Manager Paul Fenton, whose path crossed with Hendricks when both were previously with the Nashville Predators. Years ago, the two even talked about working together.
“He’s a welcome addition here,” Fenton said. “He’s a positive guy, incredibly hard-working [and a] self-made hockey player.”
A fifth-round draft pick by Nashville in 2000, the Blaine native spent four years racking up 112 points at St. Cloud State before embarking on his pro career. He played 247 games in the American Hockey League and another 54 in the ECHL, most of which came before he made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche on March 10, 2009.
“I know what it’s like to play in the minor leagues, whether it’s East Coast League or American Hockey League, and have the dream and aspirations of playing in the NHL,” the 38-year-old said. “I think that story will help these young guys believe in themselves a little bit more.”
With 54 goals, 116 points and 1,398 hits in 607 career games with Colorado, Washington, Nashville, Edmonton, Winnipeg and the Wild, Hendricks became known as a versatile spark plug up the middle or on the wing with a knack for killing penalties and blocking shots. He was also known as a leader, a duty he fulfilled with the Wild last season before he was traded to the Jets in February.
“I was blessed to play probably a lot longer than I was ever expected [to],” said Hendricks, who lives in Deephaven with his wife, Kim, and twins, Lennon and Gunnar. “I’m happy with all the opportunities, and [I] played for a lot of great organizations, managers [and] coaches. Met some extraordinary teammates and really good friends along the way. It’s time for me to move on to the next phase.”
Working alongside director of player development Brad Bombardir, Hendricks will evaluate prospects, help with their development and assist with Iowa in the AHL. He’s also been on the ice with prospects at the Wild’s development camp this week.
“I’m excited to have him and excited for all the fresh, new ideas that he brings along with his experience,” Bombardir said.
Hendricks still isn’t sure what facet of hockey will intrigue him the most, whether it be coaching or management, but he feels he’ll be exposed to both with his new position.
And he’s eager to take on that job in a place that’s familiar to him.
“It’s very exciting to be able to do this in my home state and close to my family,” Hendricks said.