There’s a delicate balance in sports between remaining alert and on top of your game, yet staying loose – or, as they put it in hockey, not gripping the stick too tight. One member of the 1989 Stanley Cup-winning Calgary Flames turned on the movie Slap Shot before a crucial Game 7 and got the whole team laughing, chronicles Ross Bernstein in Raising Stanley. The 1993 Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens used their coach’s imperfect English as an endearing joke that kept the team light-hearted.
For the Capitals, keeping the team loose seems a job by committee, if you ask the guys. There’s no shortage of names when asked for locker room characters: Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks, showing once again just how crucial non top-line guys can be off the ice.
It seems to be less what they do, and more the things they say, that earns them the title – “Some of them, it’s just stuff that comes out of their mouths,” teammate John Erskine explained.
Matt Hendricks, for example, will go around the room before a game and say something to each player.
Hendricks says, however, he wasn’t the funny guy growing up – in fact, it was another part of his development as an NHL player. Caps fans know from watching HBO’s 24/7 that Hendricks had to broaden his skill set to include fighting in order to keep a roster spot in the NHL. But Hendricks also developed the equally crucial talent of making guys laugh.
“I think it developed in my pro career, just as a niche thing – [trying] to find my niche in this league,” he said. “I used to be always serious all the time, but that’s hard on you.”
So who keeps Hendricks laughing? Standing in the locker room, answering which Capital has the best sense of humor that the media doesn’t know about, he gives an answer that certainly surprises me.
“Boyd Gordon,” Hendricks says almost immediately. “Best sense of humor ever. Dry, extremely dry.”
A Caps employee standing nearby has already started laughing, presumably – though unconfirmed— at Hendricks’ answer or my gullibility (I took Hendricks’ answer initially with all the gravitas of Victoria Beckham going wardrobe shopping), so Hendricks helped me out by explaining a bit further, enough so that I could tell it was a genuine answer.
“Most guys wouldn’t think that, but if you got him alone for a little bit, and you could understand him – which not many people do – it’s dynamite. I get a kick out of him every day,” Hendricks said of the fourth-liner, who is certainly, around the media, professional in his answers but relatively quiet. “It took me a little while to get to know him… I get a big kick out of him.”