Matt Hendricks arrived at Capitals training camp in 2010 on a professional tryout contract, one of a handful of bubble players just hoping to crack that season's NHL roster. But outside of the front office and then-coach Bruce Boudreau, no one had really heard of him. So he set out to change that -- both on and off the ice.
"My first impression was that this guy doesn't shut up," teammate Brooks Laich said.
It was all part of Hendricks' master plan. After playing 56 games for Colorado the year before, the winger needed to make his presence felt. On the ice, he recorded a hat trick in the first preseason game against Columbus. Later, he blasted Boston's Gregory Campbell in a fight after he felt the Bruins were taking liberties with star winger Alex Ovechkin. Fans heard about all of that on-the-ice action, and Hendricks quickly became a favorite. By the end of training camp, he had a one-year contract and an NHL roster spot.
But he also did work behind the scenes. A veritable chatter box at practice and in the locker room, Hendricks was quickly coining slogans, dropping nicknames on teammates and eventually becoming part of the team's leadership group. At 29, he had performed well enough to sign his first multiyear NHL contract in February 2011 and finally had some security after six years in the minors.
Hendricks has several routines that he does right before games to keep his teammates loose, including an imitation of actor and WWE wrestler Dwayne Johnson, aka "The Rock."
On the ice, he is a key part of Washington's effective third line, which has been tagged with stopping the opposition's top lines. Hendricks also scored a goal in the Game 7 overtime win over Boston and ranks 10th in faceoffs this postseason among players with at least 100 attempts (57.4 percent).
"[Hendricks] is one of these guys that you can put him anywhere in the lineup and he's going to be successful," coach Dale Hunter said. "He works so damn hard out there that he's hard to play against. You wouldn't want to play against him because he doesn't give you much room and he's physical without taking penalties."