Hendricks Gets an Earful

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Generally speaking, when Caps forward Matt Hendricks sheds his blood on an ice rink, it’s because he’s caught the knuckles of a fistic foe somewhere above his neck during an NHL game. That wasn’t the case last Saturday in Pittsburgh, however. During the Capitals’ off-day practice at Consol Energy Center in the Steel City, Hendricks suddenly and quite surprisingly began bleeding profusely from his right ear and the surrounding area. “We were in groups,” recalls Hendricks. “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 was direct enough. “It hit me and it was kind of surprising,” says Hendricks. “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.” Hendricks saying he was pretty upset is a slight understatement. He barreled his way toward the bench, loudly hurling invective along the way. He crashed his way through the door to the Capitals’ bench, and thundered down the tunnel leading to the Washington locker room, leaving spatterings of carmine in his wake. “The immediate thing I did was to go to a mirror to see how bad it was,” Hendricks remembers. “It wasn’t a pretty sight, that’s for sure. The trainers – Ben [Reisz] and Greg [Smith] – they did a great job taking care of me right away. [/caption] “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.” Again, a bit of an understatement on Hendricks’ part here. As the accompanying photo shows, the Ovechkin missile took a chunk out of Hendricks’ ear and also opened up a wound on the side of his head. Hendricks spent the afternoon being tended to by the Caps’ medical staff and a local plastic surgeon. The men combined forces to stop the bleeding and mend Hendricks’ right ear. “The Pens had a great plastic surgeon who came down to the rink and took good care of me,” says Hendricks. “He was able to stitch the cartilage back together and then stitch the ear back together as a whole. And then there are a few more stitches in the side of my head.” The before and after photographs of the medical handiwork are impressive. Most folks likely wouldn’t think of going to work for a day or two at least after suffering such a trauma. Hockey players are a different breed. Hendricks was on the ice playing an NHL regular season game less than 24 hours after Ovechkin’s shot carved through his ear. Further helmet handiwork was required to construct a flap over Hendricks’ earhole to prevent further damage to his ear during the rigors of on-ice battles. “Anytime you get hit in the head,” begins Hendricks, “you worry about the worst possible thing which would be a concussion. Fortunately, nothing like that happened. At the same time, I wasn’t real sure how this was going to fit my helmet and if I’d be able to play that way. Brock [Myles] and Woody [Leydig] and the training crew did a great job coming up with a good plastic cover that really didn’t touch my ear at all and was able to protect it at the same time. We were joking that it’s like a sidecar on a motorcycle to hold my ear on.” Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun endured a similar incident when he was with the Florida Panthers. Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard inadvertently hacked Vokoun’s ear with his stick, and the wound required some serious stitching. Did Hendricks commiserate with Vokoun after suffering his own aural ailment? “I did,” smiles Hendricks. “I talked to him and asked him how long the pain was going to last. That first night of sleep before the Pittsburgh game, that was pretty bad. Once that novacain wore off around midnight, it was a tough night’s sleep.” [/caption] After a fitful night’s rest, Hendricks returned to Consol for Sunday’s game. Another surprise awaited him there; he was slated to move up in the lineup, playing the left side of a line with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. Their task: try to contain Pittsburgh’s torrid scoring line featuring Evgeni Malkin, the hottest offensive threat in the game. “That was a great feeling,” says Hendricks, “to be looked at as one of the guys who can go out and play defensively against their top line and to play with Brooks and Brouwer. It’s a big responsibility but at the same time a great opportunity and I really enjoyed it and it was a lot of fun.” Hendricks hadn’t spent any significant time playing with either Laich or Brouwer previously, but he said their similar styles enabled them to mesh well on the ice. “Other guys, yeah, it would probably be tougher,” says Hendricks of the line adjustment. “But those two play a lot like me and a lot like our line. They just have more offensive ability. I think playing with them makes the game a little bit easier. They control the puck better and they have more opportunities to go to the net. It’s a lot of fun to play with them. They’re very responsible in the defensive zone, which is great, but at the same time they’re a threat to score.” Once the game started, Hendricks found himself on the ice more frequently than when he mans the fourth line. “It’s definitely a big difference,” says the Minnesota native. “When you’re playing fourth line minutes – anywhere between six and nine minutes; that’s usually what I end up having – it’s a real mental struggle to keep your head in the game, to try to do the things you need to do to be successful, to be that high energy player. For me, I try to talk a lot on the bench, talk a lot in the locker room, keep myself involved as much as I can. “In a game like [Sunday’s] when you’re playing a lot, it’s a different kind of a mental challenge. Now you’ve got to keep focused on what your task at hand is, what you’ve got to do every shift when you get out there, all of your responsibilities.” In the second period of Sunday’s game, Hendricks found himself on the receiving end of a violent hit from Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Hendricks absorbed Michalek’s elbow on the back of his head, and the force of that elbow drove his own head into the glass. Fortunately, his ear was spared further abuse on the play. “That was a tough play,” says Hendricks. “I’m not saying it was intentional; with momentum in those areas it’s hard to slow down or stop. It did put us on the power play, and that’s part of my job for this team as well, to work hard and draw penalties. It didn’t get me too bad in the ear, more in the forehead.” It’s in Hendricks’ nature to stir things up, create energy and to find himself in the center of scrums and fracases on the ice. Having dropped the gloves in each of his previous two games, Hendricks had to remind himself to cool his jets a bit in the Pittsburgh game. “Before the game,” he says, “it’s going through your head to stay out of the fighting and stay away from those extracurriculars. But in a situation like that, you don’t really think about it. You just respond and do whatever you have to do to help your teammates out.” Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh was the 180th of Hendricks’ NHL career. By game’s end, he had logged 16 minutes and 32 seconds of ice time, a single-game career best. Two nights later, the Caps returned home to face the Bruins. Playing alongside Laich and Brouwer again, Hendricks again established a single-game career best with 17 minutes and 45 seconds of work. “It sure is a lot more fun when you’re playing that much time,” he observes. “It’s kind of funny. When you’re not playing a lot, you seem to get out there and use all your energy up in 30 or 40 seconds and you’re completely gassed. [Sunday], I was feeling a lot more comfortable. I was feeling a lot better; I wasn’t tired. It just feels like the more minutes you get, the better you feel and the better you play.” While that’s true, Hendricks did have a scary moment in Tuesday’s game against Boston. He took an errant puck to the head, and immediately removed his glove and felt the wound around his right ear. It had sprung a leak. No worries, he went off for a quick repair and was back on the sheet quickly. “I’m ready for the [All-Star] break,” sighed Hendricks after the game. “I broke a stitch and there’s a little cut underneath. I didn’t need this today.” In all of his years of hockey, all of his days spent honing his craft on an ice rink, Hendricks can’t recall having another fluke injury such as the one he hopes will heal more swiftly while he is off the ice for the NHL’s All-Star break. “Thinking back, I can’t think of anything,” says Hendricks. “I can think of battling drills in practice where you might take a stick in the face or hit your head on the boards and get a cut that way. But after practice standing around just doing some skill work, skill development, to get a puck in the ear like that was kind of a tough experience.”

next up:

Changing of the (Rear)Guard

January 14, 2013

When the Capitals opened up the 2010-11 season in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2010, their top three defensemen in terms of ice time were Mike Green (27:38), Jeff Schultz (21:07) and Tom Poti (18:49). Sixteen months later, much has changed. Green and Poti are both on injured reserve. The timetable for


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