As told to: Victoria Matiash
I love your draft-selection reference included in your Twitter bio. Makes me smile.
That’s why I joke about it. People will ask “where did you go?” And I’ll say I was picked right before Vincent Lecavalier. “But didn’t he go first overall in 1998?” And I’ll say “yeah, that’s right”. (Henderson was selected dead-last in 1997.)
It was your first year of draft eligibility in 1997 – did you expect to get selected?
I wouldn’t call it ‘expected’. I would say, with the rankings prior, you hear your name, and at the time, I was to go in the sixth round – or somewhere in there. It was a long day for sure. I was hoping, but I wasn’t putting on too much pressure either.
Where were you?
I was at home. I would never have gone to the draft. I wouldn’t recommend, unless you’re going in the first round, to go to the draft. I think it’s a long day as it is, and usually you’re more upset than anything.
I was at home with family. It was a very long day, and I actually thought the draft was over [and I wasn’t selected]. Then I got a call around seven o’clock from our junior (Edmonton Ice) GM and he said “I’ve got good news and bad news.” So I asked “okay, what’s the bad news?” “Well, you didn’t go as high as you wanted to … but you did get picked”. And that’s the first I heard of it. Then, literally right away, the other line rang and it was Boston calling. So it was a long day as I thought the draft was over and I wasn’t picked and then … it was a total change of emotion.
And then ‘party time’ in the Henderson household …
It was, yeah. At that point I didn’t care where I went [number-wise]. Obviously it’s every hockey player’s dream to get drafted, and play in the NHL. So I looked at it as a good opportunity, obviously without a lot of expectation, going last overall. Which isn’t a bad thing, I think. And just through hard work, I believe that’s how I got there.
Were you happy to be drafted by the Bruins in particular?
To be honest, I didn’t really care. But to find out it was the Boston Bruins – an original six club – it’s pretty special, right? And it worked out great. I can’t speak highly enough of the organization in Boston, they did so much for me. It worked out great for both sides – but especially for me. I got treated very well there, with a lot of respect. With the timing of it all, they were struggling at the time in the late 90’s, so it was ideal for me.
Joe Thornton was selected first overall by the Bruins the same year you were chosen. Did you two have to deal with extra drama – from the media or in the dressing room – as draft bookends?
What I was told was Boston had the second-last pick in the draft, and I think Colorado was slated to pick last. And it’s significant, to open and close the draft. So they made the trade with Colorado to flip the last two picks. And obviously Boston selected me with that pick.
Obviously he [Thornton] got a lot of attention, being picked first overall, and the media is curious about who’s picked last overall. But, it’s hockey right? We never really compared [our situations]. It’s all business when you’re at camp.
Did your perspective change, once you were drafted into the bigs?
Not really. I was keen [to make it], right from 16. I was very serious, working towards my goal, with what I wanted to achieve. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment [with being drafted] which feels good, but I was totally driven, and there was a lot of work still to be done. So I was happy, but my mindset was still the same.
So you thought you had a pretty good shot at playing in the NHL …
Welllll … deep down I did, yeah. While there was some expectation, I don’t think too many people would have bet on me, right? But I was driven to get there, one way or another, and I did what I felt I had to do. And obviously it worked out. The timing was good too, whether it was injuries [to other players], or whatever the case may be, it all added up. But, yeah, deep down I knew I would do whatever it took to get there. A lot people along the way may have had different feelings [about my chances], but it’s what I wanted to accomplish.
So the support and belief in you wasn’t universal …
I get good support from my family, and they keep me grounded, which is good thing. But along the way … I remember in Grade 9, we were going around my business class and my teacher was asking “what do you want to be when you grow up?” And I said I wanted to play hockey. The response was “okay, that’s great, but pick something realistic.” So that stuck with me, but I just used it as motivation. Obviously it’s a pretty bold answer – most people aren’t going to play professional sports [for a living]. I was just driven, and I loved hockey growing up. That was my focus, and obviously it worked out well for me. And I used all of that [negativity] as motivation.
Best memory from playing in the NHL …
Oh gosh. First game, obviously, was one of the big things. Scoring my first goal was a great accomplishment as well. Just being there – making the team out of camp the one year – that was a big accomplishment too. Not just getting called up, but making the team out of camp. Really though, just putting on the jersey was probably the biggest thing.
So, stepping on the ice for the first time in an NHL game lived up to your expectations as a kid?
Yeah, for sure. It’s hard to put into words, right? You live that moment, and it does goes by quick, but I tried to soak it all in as best I could. I was also treated very well, so makes things that much better.
After three partial seasons with the Bruins, you bounced around the AHL for a while. After a point, was it harsh in finally realizing your NHL career was probably over?
It was the reality – the writing was on the wall. The last couple of years I signed American League deals, so the writing’s there. I was smart enough – most players are – to realize that when you decide to go to Europe, you’re giving up that dream. You don’t have an NHL contract, you’re playing under an American League deal. So, I went to Europe, thinking “okay, it’s a good opportunity to make some more money, and live in a different country, which is a great thing as well.”
I was good with it. It’s not easy leaving, and giving up that dream, but at the same point you give up other things as well [to play in the NHL].
Man, you’re a pretty positive guy.
You have to be [laughs]. Life’s good. I live the dream – we’re happy, everyone’s healthy. That’s the big thing, right?
VICTORIA MATIASH is a rec. league hockeyist and acclaimed author (ESPN.com) and broadcast anchor who lives in Toronto.
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