By: Justin Dickie
07/04/2014 9:59 AM -
After starting the 2013-2014 season in Northern Sweden, the 2014-2015 season will be closer to home for T.J. Hensick, both literally – in terms of geography – and figuratively – in terms of familiarity.
The veteran forward of seven professional seasons in the National Hockey League and American Hockey League will play for the Bulldogs in Hamilton this coming year, just a four-hour drive from where he grew up outside Lansing, Michigan. The 28-year-old, who started last season in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden with MODO, hasn’t played this close to home since he suited up for the Lake Erie Monsters while a part of the Colorado Avalanche organization more than four years ago.
“My wife’s kind of excited because we were in Northern Sweden last year and she already looked it up on a map and I think (Hamilton) is 245 miles from home, so it’s not too bad,” Hensick says. “Being able to get home for Christmas break, All-Star break, it will be nice just to see the family. We’ll probably be playing in Grand Rapids and Cleveland quite a bit, so the parents can drive down there, too, and still come to Hamilton for some games.”
As an added bonus, Hensick will come to Hamilton already familiar with his boss. He knows head coach Sylvain Lefebvre well from his three seasons in the Avalanche organization, where Lefebvre was an assistant coach with Lake Erie from 2007-2009 and an assistant coach with Colorado when Hensick was there in 2009-2010.
“I’m really familiar with his philosophies and the way he runs a team,” Hensick says of Lefebvre. “He pushes guys to get better every day. I just remember working with him and how professional he was and how respectful he was with the players. I’m sure he’s still the same way and I’m just excited to be playing for him as a head coach.”
As the Bulldogs look to return to playoff form this coming season after missing the post-season the past three years, Lefebvre is pleased to have acquired a player he already knows well and he believes can re-ignite the team’s offence.
“I know what kind of player he is, what kind of person he is. He knows me as a coach, same thing,” Lefebvre says. “I think it was mutual on both sides that we thought it would be a good fit.”
Hensick has been a proven contributor throughout his AHL career, with 371 points in 363 regular season games. Those numbers have earned him four AHL All-Star Classic appearances and recognition as an AHL Second Team All-Star in 2011-2012.
“He sees plays that not a lot of players will see,” Lefebvre says, noting that Hensick will mainly be utilized as a centre. “He’s going to bring the offensive part, but also he’s the type of guy and type of player that loves the game and wants to play the game. He’s going to bring some enthusiasm to our team. He’s going to show the way to our young players.”
Hensick’s offensive output has remained consistent throughout his pro career, but his Second Team All-Star nod in 2011-2012 while with the Peoria Rivermen in the St. Louis Blues organization stands out as a personal milestone. In trademark hockey player fashion, 5’9”, 195-pound forward is quick to deflect any credit for that season to teammates – in particular, regular linemates including Adam Cracknell, Brett Sterling and Derek Nesbitt.
“Obviously having players to play with, the power play was really good,” Hensick notes as contributors to his personal success that year. “There were a lot of things that went into it, but I’d really like to recapture that and try to get myself in a position to earn an NHL contract at some point next spring or fall.”
While it’s too early to determine who his regular linemates will be this coming season, being back closer to home and having a familiar face behind the bench are two positive steps toward a successful season.
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