Senior pushes hockey to wins

by Michael Rand

It was just past noon on New Year’s Eve — a time when most people are thinking about the ball dropping, not the puck.
Members of the Gophers hockey team had just finished a morning practice. Virtually all of them, clad in sweatpants and jerseys, were still on the Mariucci Arena ice skating around with area youth hockey players.
As Minnesota players began filtering off the ice in one- or two-minute intervals until there were just a handful left, one could still spy this scene: Senior Dan Hendrickson sending a pass toward a teetering youngster wearing a jersey hardly a third of the size of his own.
Eventually Hendrickson came off the ice, where he was called upon by a parent sitting in the stands. The dad shouted words of encouragement for the second half of the Gophers season and thanked Hendrickson for skating with the kids.
With a grin that he wears often, Hendrickson looked up and offered back a sincere, “It was fun.”
It is moments like that one that illustrate why the Richfield native’s contributions to the Gophers cannot be measured by goals or assists.
Hendrickson has one goal and six assists this season — including a four-assist performance against St. Cloud State on Dec. 14 — surpassing his point total from last year (5). But when he’s displaying his grit and his love for the game, he’s at his best.
Whether Hendrickson is diving to poke a puck out of the Gophers zone when they’re shorthanded, or fighting for a loose puck along the boards, his teammates can be assured that he’s giving them all the effort he can.
His hustling play when his team is short-handed is one of the reasons Minnesota has killed nearly 90 percent of its penalties this season.
“He’s been the one consistent player we’ve had every game,” senior Dan Woog said. “He doesn’t complain. His attitude is always, ‘What can I do for the team.'”
Hendrickson shrugs off the pats on the back, welcoming them, but taking himself out of the spotlight at the same time.
“When you’re called upon to work hard every night it’s easier than having to score every night,” he said. “Other players have great games night in and night out, but the expectations are maybe higher for them.”
It’s that kind of attitude that produced one of Coach Doug Woog’s largest smiles of the season. Following Hendrickson’s four-point outburst against St. Cloud State, the coach could not stop talking about him. He even got a bit nostalgic.
“He was just the most delightful recruit I had ever met,” Woog said. “He was always smiling.”
Back in those days, Hendrickson didn’t envision himself as the type of “role player” he is today. His brother, Darby, had 82 points in just 75 career games at Minnesota. As a freshman, Hendrickson envisioned similar numbers.
He registered just five points in his first season, but his four goals and 12 assists as a sophomore were an encouraging progression.
And then there was last season, his junior year. After playing in a total of 79 games his first two years, Hendrickson suited up for just 23. His five points were a complete regression back to his freshman year.
“I wouldn’t wish last year on anybody,” he said. “But it makes you learn what’s important. By no means did it break my spirit.”
This season, he’s been instrumental in creating a loose locker room and setting an example for the Gophers’ eight newcomers. Although he’s not a captain, Hendrickson sometimes seems like one.
“You know he’s going to be there 110 percent every night,” said freshman Rico Pagel. “He’s a good leader.”
What about Hendrickson, the person?
“Hendy’s one of the nicer ones to us, isn’t he?,” Pagel said, asking fellow freshman Mike Lyons for confirmation.
Lyons gave a quick nod.
Hendrickson’s pro rights are held by the Washington Capitals, but he knows that his chances of making it to the NHL are slim. Although the management and finance major was a University Scholar-Athlete his first three years, he said he’s “not ready to get a job yet.”
That leaves the senior with this plan for life after his Gophers career is over:
“I know I’m not going to be in the NHL, but there’s a league somewhere that I can play in,” he said. “I’ll find it, and I’ll do my best to succeed there.”