Canadians have an undying love for hockey. That love, often found at a young age, has helped to produce some of the most talented players in the league. Still a young talent at 23-years-old, New Jersey Devils’ Adam Henrique found hockey in his youth and never looked back.
“Growing up in Canada, everybody gets into hockey one way or another. When I was young I started playing in Burford, my hometown, we started playing here at the local rink. My mom and dad would take us to the rink and my older brother would play, every time he was playing, I was told I would complain and complain until finally they let me play with him,” said Henrique. “It’s nice growing up, my older brother and I played together when we were little and then when I was 6-years-old, my parents took me to the local AAA center in Brantford. Their friends were taking their son to tryout and that’s where it all started. I made the team and from then on until my OHL draft, that’s where I played hockey.”
Hockey, often a family affair, found its way into the Henrique household during the cold Canadian winters and still holds a place within the family to this day.
“I have three brothers. We all played. We grew up on a farm in Burford. We have a few ponds around the property, so every winter when it would freeze, we couldn’t wait to get down and play on the pond,” Henrique explained. “We had the snow blower and shovels out there and we would play until it was dark. All of our friends would come over and we would all be down there playing all the time. You would play until you were too cold to play anymore or there was no more light. That was something that was always fun growing up. Now my dad and my brothers, they still build an ice rink at home every winter when they can.”
Burford is a small community over 100km southwest of Toronto in Maple Leafs territory. While he currently wears red in New Jersey, Henrique has been sporting the color for years.
“Growing up, everyone around here is a Leafs fan, but I was a Wings fan and my favorite player growing up was Steve Yzerman. The first time I really got into watching hockey was when Detroit won back-to-back Stanley Cups and he was just the guy that stood out,” said Henrique. “When I was young, if I could have been anyone, it would have been him for sure. I was lucky enough to be able to meet him a handful of times now and it’s been pretty cool every time. He’s a very nice guy, knows his hockey and is a good guy to talk to.”
The commitment to hockey for any individual is endless. The strides taken to skate your way to the top are often successful because of family and especially parents.
“My parents, the way we grew up around here and the way my mom and dad had shown us how to grow up, everything is hard work, nothing comes easy.” Henrique continued, “Growing up on a farm, you work on the farm every summer. It’s tough work. It’s not that fun going to the farm everyday and having to work. It’s long, odd hours. I think that was something that taught me if hockey is something that I wanted to do, than I had to put everything that I had towards it. I could be older and take over the farm, or I could want hockey to become my life, my job, my career.”
Perhaps the farm could be a fall back plan. In the meantime, Henrique has found success on the ice and is making a mark in a franchise known for its devotion to players. Before the Devils, he lit up the ice for four seasons with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, a team and organization that holds a special place in both his professional development and heart.
“It was huge for me going there and being able to play under Bob [Boughner], Warren [Rychel], and DJ Smith. They’re guys that have played in the NHL and knew what it took to make the jump from juniors to pro level,” Henrique said. “Going in there our first year we knew we were going to have a young team. A team that probably wasn’t going to be very good, but they were committed to us and we were committed as players to be able to grow that program.”
A program that proved successful during his four seasons with the organization, netting the Spitfires the Memorial Cup in both 2009 and 2010.
“It worked out. We became much better our second year and went on to win our third and fourth year. I think it shows now that the way those guys handled us as young players there worked,” he added. “I think there’s 13 players from two Memorial Cup teams that have played games in the NHL. It’s just a tribute to those guys, what they taught us and how we came along as an organization.”
Amid a successful run in the OHL, Henrique was drafted by the Devils in the third round, 82nd overall during the 2008 NHL entry draft. It wasn’t until the 2010-11 season that he joined the Albany Devils, the American Hockey League affiliate of New Jersey. He hit the NHL ice with the big club in April of that season.
While many players jetted off to Europe during the 2012-13 lockout, Henrique was afforded a different opportunity and headed back to Albany.
“It was nice that I didn’t have to worry about finding a place to play and traveling overseas. It was just going into a regular season for me. I had to be at training camp at this time and then the season started on time. I played a year there before, so I was comfortable with the coaches and the players on the team,” said Henrique. “It was nice to be able to not have to worry and just have a place to play. I got hurt there for a couple of months and missed the majority of my time there. My first year there in Albany was a success. It was something I needed along the way to grow my game and learn how to become a professional. Being on my own, it was a good year and it was something that was needed.”
With a growing list of accomplishments already on his résumé including Calder Trophy finalist and Stanley Cup Final participant, it’s humbling to hear that his greatest memory wasn’t the first time he hit the NHL ice but revolves around the start of his career.
“I don’t know if there’s just one. Obviously winning two Memorial Cups has to be the best. Just the group of guys that we won with there, guys that I played all four years in Windsor with,” said Henrique. “Just where we came from as an organization there with the same coaches and there was some turnover but they really stuck with the core group of guys from our draft and to be able to win back-to-back Memorial Cups was something special.”
Back-to-back Memorial Cups may rank the highest for Henrique, but other accomplishments come to mind as well.
“Playing in the World Juniors was a dream come true for me. It’s something that every hockey kid dreams of – and then to get drafted the the NHL. Then to be able to play in a Stanley Cup Finals my first year, I guess I could have asked for something better, it would’ve been nice if we’d won,” said Henrique.
As is customary among hockey players, it never seems to be what a memory meant to themselves, but how it affected those around them. It’s never “I”, it’s always “we”, and while Henrique’s playoff success propelled the team further, it meant so much more.
“Just to be able to get there and to have the two overtime series winning goals was something very special. Especially in the game against the Rangers, I’ve learned how much that goal meant to not only Devils fans but the whole organization. Just to be able to have such a big part of it is something that I’ll never forget.”
Plagued with injury during his AHL lockout stint, Henrique went on to tally 11 goals and 5 assists during the remainder of the 2013 NHL season. The past in the past, it’s now about looking towards the upcoming season and improving the game.
“You can always improve your entire game, but I want to be more consistent from start to finish throughout the whole year. Not only play a number of good games in a row but keep the consistency. You’re going to have a bad game once in awhile, but ultimately, I want to be consistent start to finish.”
Similar to many teams in the league, the Devils will have new faces come September. As players say goodbye to teammates and friends, it’s ultimately about bettering the team.
“I’m excited for the season to start. It’s been pretty much a long summer, but with the moves that the team has made, how could I not be excited,” said Henrique. “There has been a few changes, but I’m excited about the additions that Mr. Lamarello has made. Bringing in Corey [Schneider], a younger goalie was a huge move for the future of the team. Picking up [Ryan] Clowe, [Michael] Ryder, [Jaromir] Jagr. I’m ready to get back and get started, I think a lot of guys would say the same thing.”
A sight to see on the ice and a childhood idol for many of his teammates, Jaromir Jagr is always cause for excitement.
“It’s going to be pretty cool to have him in the locker room,” laughed Henrique.
Stuck within close proximity of two other NHL franchises, the New Jersey Devils may not often get the credit they deserve among the NHL. However, the team and its fans can be classified as a tight knit hockey community that is constantly growing.
“It doesn’t seem like hockey is huge in New Jersey, but you get to the rink and the fans there are just so passionate about the game. They’re always loud, always cheering, they have chants every single game that we play – especially during rivalries like the Rangers,” said Henrique. “They just love the game, it’s awesome to see. I think it’s great, how much hockey has grown there over the past handful of years. Hockey has really picked up in the area and you can see it with our fans everyone gets more and more excited each year and I hope it continues to grow there.”
With the season currently not in session, many players head back to their hometowns for a little rest, relaxation and preparation for the upcoming year. While off-season training regimes are fairly consistent across the league, it’s the time outside of the gym and rink that offers a mental reprieve. #14 spends the off season back home in Ontario, acting as a regular Joe and not the superstar forward fans make him out to be.
“You caught me in the middle of a bunch of yard work, wouldn’t say it’s a typical day, but it’s my day today,” Henrique laughed. “Usually I wake up, go to the gym. Cutting the grass, weed-whacking – it’s nice getting away from hockey. I live out in the country here. I enjoy being out here. It’s quiet and much different than being right in the city. Coming home is my favorite.”
While most of the summer is spent back home in Ontario, the New Jersey community still remains an important part of the off-season for Henrique.
“I was in New Jersey doing a hockey school last week, 8- to 10-year-olds and 12- to 14-year-olds. But it went really well and was a lot of fun.”
Like many of his NHL colleagues, outside of the rink it’s about being a regular guy and enjoying life. A denizen of the big city for half the year, it’s bucolic home life that best represents Henrique’s personality.
“I’m laid back. I’m not the most outgoing guy, but I’m laid back, go with the flow. I enjoy my time away from the rink. It’s nice and quiet when I’m at home, don’t have to worry about traffic in Burford. It’s nice and reflects my personality a bit.”
Whether on the ice or off of it, it’s easy to see how Adam Henrique has worked his way into the hearts of Devils fans. Just a humble Canadian guy, focused on playing the game and enjoying every minute of it.