WHEELING, W.Va. – It takes a special breed of animal to stand in front of the opposing goaltender and take as much punishment as is dished out in those parts of a hockey rink.
Any successful hockey team has at least one guy who’s willing to stand in there and take sticks to the face, the back, and anywhere else a creative mind can think. For the Wheeling Nailers, that guy is forward Adam Henrich.
A former second-round draft choice (60th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2002, Henrich returned to the Wheeling lineup and had an immediate impact in Saturday night’s 5-1 victory against the Dayton Bombers.
‘‘As a big guy, you stand in front of the net and you battle it out,’’ Henrich said. ‘‘That’s part of the game.
‘‘I’ve been doing it for a long time and that’s the way I like it.’’
And the Nailers like having him in there.
Henrich got the Nailers on the scoreboard first against the Bombers, simply by maneuvering his body around the goaltender. That’s pretty much all he’ll have to do — besides take the punishment — if you listen to him.
It sounds simple, but it’s a very important job — one he takes a great amount of pride in performing.
‘‘That’s where the goals will come,’’ he said. ‘‘That first goal I scored, I was sitting in front and ‘Collie’ (Collins) said just stand there and I’ll get it to you.
‘‘After the goal, he just smiled at me and I just knew in his face he was kind of like ‘I told you.’ ’’
That’s the type of thing the Nailers were missing as Henrich was forced to sit out because of a altercation in the team’s final preseason game that resulted in a three-game suspension.
Henrich, who says he carried a little extra motivation into his debut, also noticed an increased level of excitement among his teammates.
‘‘It was nice to come back and it was a good first game — the team and myself — and I think we are looking forward to building on that,’’ he said. ‘‘You know the boys were pumped, and I was pretty pumped up myself. As a team, we just knew we needed that win.
‘‘It was a must-win. It showed on the scoreboard.’’
Wheeling coach Glenn Patrick also sensed more of a physical nature to his team’s play with Henrich’s return.
‘‘We can ride him, and with his energy we can be a better team,’’ Patrick said. ‘‘There’s a reason he was drafted so high.
‘‘He’s also got that charisma to him.’’
Though he’ll score his share of goals this season, Henrich admits his role isn’t always the most glamorous one. But he also realizes there’s a place in the game for him.
‘‘I know every team has their big guys, and in this league everyone is battling to make their way back up (the hockey ladder),’’ Henrich said. ‘‘It’s heart.
‘‘I just want to be a big guy up front. I just want to crash and bang and help the team out.’’
Added Patrick: ‘‘You have to know it’s worth it, and I think he knows that.’’