Off the Ice with Calder Candidate Adam Henrique

A year ago at this time, Adam Henrique was playing for the New Jersey Devils’ AHL team (the Albany Devils) and posting a 50-point (25g-25a) effort over 73 games in his first season as a pro. He earned a call up for New Jersey’s final game of the season (April 10, 2011 vs. Boston), giving him a sample of what NHL hockey is all about. Fast forward to March 18 of this season; Henrique is now firmly entrenched as New Jersey’s number one pivot, centering two superstars – Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise — quite a change for a guy that was barely on the Devils’ opening night roster.

Some say he is even a candidate for rookie of the year (Calder Trophy), and his stats would back that up. He has registered 46 points (15g-31a) in 64 games, including four shorthanded goals and three game-winners. It seems sometimes that he came out of nowhere, but he was a star in Junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires, playing regularly with the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers. When Windsor won the Memorial Cup, it was Henrique and not Hall that won the Wayne Gretzky Trophy (playoff MVP) by tallying 25 points (20g-5a) in 19 games.

Hockey scouts see a nice upside for the recently turned 22-year-old from Brantford, Ontario: “He leads by example, has two-way intelligence and a high hockey IQ. Can play center or wing and plays his best in pressure situations. He must continue getting stronger in order to maximize his two-way acumen at the highest level.”

Recently I was able to slow down the speedy Henrique to ask him a few questions about his career and off-ice interests.

The Devils selected Henrique 82nd overall (3rd round) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and although he was happy just to be selected, he was excited that it was New Jersey that chose him. “(I knew I was going to be drafted), it was just a matter of when, and to what team,” recalled Henrique of that afternoon in Ottawa. “It’s a huge honor to be drafted into this league, and it was special to experience that; having my family there. To be picked by New Jersey, it was a great fit for me – three and a half years later — it couldn’t have worked out better for me.”

After making the big club out of training camp, because the team’s top center Travis Zajac was sidelined indefinitely while recovering from an Achilles injury, Henrique was sent down to Albany on October 14 after two uneventful games played and a healthy scratch for another. Eight days later he was recalled as the Devils were shuffling the lineup, still trying to offset the loss of their number one center, Zajac.

Three games after being recalled he registered his first NHL point, an assist on October 27 in Phoenix, and three games after that he scored his first goal; the first of four goals over three games. “We were in Philly, and it was a little frustrating for me up to that point,” he revealed. “I had hit a few posts, I was getting chances and it just seemed like one was never going to go in.”

“There was a turnover and it was a two-on-one with myself and Kovy. Being on a two-on-one with that guy, you just keep your stick on the ice and at any point he’s going to throw it over. So I just tried to get to the net, he put it right on my tape,” said Henrique before smiling and adding, “It was Merry Christmas from there,” even though it was only November 3.

Some of his closest friends in the league aren’t necessarily on his team just yet, but he was joking with current teammate Petr Sykora pretty good at the start of this interview about Henrique’s missed opportunities during the game against Colorado where his peer made some great passes that were flubbed by the 22-year-old.

“I think the other day I counted thirteen guys that I played with in Windsor that are in the NHL right now or played this season,” said Henrique. “I was talking with my good buddy (Eric) Wellwood of the Flyers, he just got called back up a little while ago. Obviously there’s Hall, Anaheim’s Cam Fowler and Florida’s Scott Timmins to name a few. Any time you see those guys or they get called up its pretty cool. I try to stay in touch with most of those guys over the year. It’s nice to see so many guys from that Windsor team make it.”

If Henrique’s career becomes anything like that of the player he idolized growing up, and the Devils can keep him on the team, they could be adding some more Stanley Cups to their collection of three. “Growing up I loved Steve Yzerman from Detroit,” said Henrique, “I always enjoyed watching him play and he had a tremendous career. I always liked the Wings growing up and he was the man; I had a chance to meet him and talk to him a few times and that was really neat to be able to do that.”

Away from the rink, he has taken it easy in anticipation of the grind that is known as the marathon 82-game NHL season. “I relax,” he said with a chuckle, “I enjoy the time away and relax a lot. Since turning pro last year, you realize that you have a lot of free time. It’s a long year though, you learn to take advantage of that rest and relaxation, enjoying your time to yourself as much as you enjoy your time at the rink.”

Some of his interests while he’s relaxing include soccer, baseball and rugby watching along with watching a lot of the TV show Modern Family, Prison Break and Lost, as well as listening to whatever Top 40 music is on the radio and “Zubie (teammate Dainius Zubrus) always has a good playlist on the locker room iPod. I loved country growing up,” he said, “but no rap for me.”

He hopes to stay in New Jersey for the foreseeable future, and the way he has played this year the fans and management probably would agree. “This whole year has been a blast, coming in and not really knowing what to expect or where I’d be. Obviously I’ve tried to gain the trust and respect of the coaching staff. I want to play here whether it’s with Zach and Kovy or if it’s on the fourth line.”

He paused, smiled and added, “Things worked out and hopefully it continues in the future.”

 

Thanks for reading, if there is a player you would like read an interview with submit your suggestions and also questions:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Koval-Choke Becomes Koval-Clutch!

Devils 4 Edmonton 3           overtime

In the span of 48 hours, Ilya Kovalchuk experienced first hand why so many people love sports — the agony of heart-breaking losses, and the thrill of dramatic, heart-stopping victories. On Wednesday night when his New Jersey Devils lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Kovalchuk never got to take his shootout attempt because the puck jumped off of his stick blade as he was stickhandling — sending him to the locker room frustrated and embarrassed.

After a solid day of practice, he was ready to move on, “It’s all history. Today the sun is up and everything is good,” Kovalchuk said on Thursday with a fresh outlook. “Tomorrow we have to win because we don’t have a win at home yet; that’s embarrassing.”

Friday night at Prudential Center it was Kovalchuk who accomplished that mission when he scored the winning goal — in overtime, capping a rally that saw New Jersey get off the mat after falling behind 3-1 to the young Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the game the Russian sniper had a handful of shots that never reached the net and entering overtime, he had still yet to register a shot on goal.

Despite only having scored three goals in fifteen games and despite all of his recent lack of puck-luck, he continued to work hard and 2:15 into the five-minute o.t. he drew a penalty on Edmonton’s Dustin Penner who tripped him at center ice along the boards. The Devils coach, John MacLean, called a timeout and before a minute had elapsed in Penner’s penalty, Kovalchuk had won the game with a rocket shot past Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk from the left circle. “It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference,” said Kovalchuk, “which is not where we want to be.”

Before the game was ten minutes old, New Jersey found themselves down by two goals — thanks in large part to Edmonton’s Colin Fraser, who scored both. The Devils continued to fire shots at Dubnyk and 5:57 after Fraser’s second tally, rookie Alexander Vasyunov took a pass from Travis Zajac and scored his first career NHL goal on a nice redirection in front of the crease.

Sam Gagner restored the two-goal bulge for the Oilers when he scored on a rebound 5:11 into the second period, silencing the crowd at the Rock who came hoping to see the first home win of the season. The next ten minutes were frustrating for New Jersey as they fired shot after shot at Dubnyk and had nothing to show for it until Brian Rolston finally scored with 3:08 left in the period. On the scoring play, David Clarkson’s wraparound attempt was denied but the loose puck came right to Rolston who was standing in the blue paint of the crease. “It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound,” explained Rolston, “I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

With 15:31 left in the third period rookie Mattias Tedenby (playing in his second NHL game) thought he had scored his first career goal, but was robbed by Dubnyk’s sharp glove hand. The 20-year old Swede finally got his first career goal when he tied the game with 9:00 left on the power play. Andy Greene fired a shot from the blueline that Tedenby deflected from the slot and under the Edmonton netminder. “I think it hit my (stick) blade,” said the diminutive rookie after the game. “It felt very good when I scored out there.”

Kovalchuk was able to complete the comeback for the Devils in overtime and for the second game in a row they scored four goals — perhaps a sign that they are coming out of their season-long collective slumps. “Obviously it was big,’ said Patrik Elias (2 assists) after the game. “I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.” Kovalchuk concurred, adding, “We never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has eleven career overtime goals, which ranks third in NHL history; his teammate Elias is tied for first all-time with 15. Rolston returned to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a sports hernia. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney led all players with five blocked shots, led all skaters with 30:26 of ice-time and he also chipped in with two assists; Greene led the Devils in ice-time with 27:39. Elias led all players with six shots on goal, while Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall (last June’s no. 1 overall draft pick) led his team with five. Both captains didn’t play in the game due to injury — New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff (thigh bruise). Fraser’s two goals were the first two of the season for him. New Jersey (5-10-2) is off until Monday when they play at Boston (8-4-1) while Edmonton (4-8-3) next plays Sunday afternoon at MSG against New York (8-7-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw/pp goal (4)

#2 – Colin Fraser (Edm) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (9)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.