By Ed Reed
ESTERO, Fla. – If Matt Hendricks’ story was written in Hollywood, the Florida Everblades’ rookie forward would have come back after missing more than a month due to emergency surgery to lead his team to victory.
Real life is more cruel.
Hendricks finished the first two games of the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals with five shots, no points and at a minus-3. He also coughed up a costly turnover that led to the Trenton (N.J.) Titans’ game-winning goal in Sunday’s 2-1 win that gave the New Jersey squad a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
“I just have to look forward to the next game and keep working and figure out what I need to do better, bear down and bury a couple of goals,” said Hendricks, who had 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists) in the regular season.
Hendricks suffered a left leg contusion on his first shift in the first period of Florida’s opening playoff game April 13 against South Carolina that required emergency surgery to relieve swelling caused by pooling blood. He returned to practice May 1 and to game action in Saturday’s 7-0 Game 1 loss to Trenton.
Game 3 is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Game 4 is at 7 p.m. on Saturday. If necessary, Game 5 would be played on Monday at 5 p.m. Tickets for all three games are on sale now at the Sovereign Bank Arena Box Office, by telephone at (609) 599-9500 and online at TicketMaster.com.
“Physically I feel fine,” said Hendricks, who added he lost 12 pounds of mostly muscle during his layoff. “It’s the mental part that’s a little bit behind. You’re thinking the game too much instead of just reacting.”
Hendricks was the last player off the ice at practice Tuesday, taking passes from Blades associate coach Jay Nobili and trying quick shots on net. It’s that work ethic that put a slightly less than 100 percent Hendricks back on the ice.
“I don’t think he came back too soon,” Florida coach Gerry Fleming said. “He was ready to play in the Charlotte series and at that point I thought it was too soon.”We put him in, Matty works hard and Matty’s been a big part of our success this year as have all the guys. We have a lot of depth and we felt he was ready to play. You can’t second guess or question a guy’s readiness. He was ready to play.”
Hendricks knows he and his team still have time to write a better ending.
“There’s a lot of fight left on this team, a lot of character and a lot of heart,” he said. “We’re a tight-knit group and we’re going to play for each other. We’ve been doing it all season. The boys are excited to get back out there and show what we can do.”