The small Iron Range school of Virginia / Mountain Iron-Buhl has contributed an NHL draft pick three times in the past six years: Matt Niskanen (Dallas, 2005), Nico Sacchetti (Dallas, 2005) and Scott Kishel (Montreal, 2007).
The Blue Devils might just have another this winter in senior Garrett Hendrickson.
The St. Cloud State recruit is widely considered one of the top players in the state with a great combination of toughness, skills and hockey sense. Hendrickson is the top returning playmaker (44 assists) in the state this winter and also added 33 goals as a junior.
We caught up with Hendrickson recently to ask him about the Blue Devils’ two straight Section 7A titles, his pride in being called a rink rat and why he chose to return for his senior season of high school hockey.
Question: You've been committed to St. Cloud State for a while now, but you have chosen to return to high school hockey for your senior season. Did you entertain any serious consideration of going elsewhere before graduation? Did St. Cloud State give you the option to make your own choice? And what factors did you weigh in making that choice?
Answer: I knew right away that I wanted to stay in high school for my last year because of the great program we have and my great friends and teammates. Yes, (St. Cloud State) gave me the option to stay and I'm pretty sure they knew I would stay anyway because of my dad being our coach here. I wanted to stay because I wanted to play my last year in the community that brought me up and play my last season with my best friends and succeed our team’s goal, which is to get to our third state tournament appearance in a row.
Q: What benefits do you see in a top player such as yourself coming back for another year?
A: Helping Virginia get back to the state tournament again, playing with my best friends, being coached by my dad one last year and just living at home and being with my family and enjoying my senior year.
Q: What's your favorite thing about playing high school hockey and why?
A: Being at the rink everyday with my best friends playing the game I love. The games are always fun and intense and winning the section final is the greatest feeling in the world. Also, playing in the state tournament was a dream come true.
Q: It’s taken a while to build Virginia hockey up to the power it is now and your father (Keith Hendrickson) has been there for much of that transition. Tell me what's its been like to play for him and to help the program gain the success it has in recent years?
A: He knows a-lot about the game that’s for sure and has taught me so much that I needed to know to get where I am today. It’s been great spending so much time with him. I’m so thankful for that. It has been great how he has brought the program where it is today. It’s because he cares so much about all us kids and would do anything for all of us. He teaches us so much every single day on the rink and every day he always makes up a practice that gets us better each day all year. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It’s been the best four years so far of my life playing high school hockey for Virginia.
Q: You've now been to state each of the last two years (and three times total in school history). What were your emotions the first time versus the second time for you? Was there a difference?
A: The first time was unreal and it seemed like it wasn’t true and it was all just a dream and never really hit me until we got there and played. It went by so fast. It was very special and was what I wanted since I was a young boy. The second time was just as special because our team was such good friends and had been playing together all our lives. But this time we knew what it was like down there and knew we had to get down there and do business, so we got the first win Virginia has ever had in the state tournament and that’s something I'll never forget.
Q: Overall, what do you think was the biggest reason for the success the team had?
A: It’s because we all cared about each other and we were a true team. There was no one out for their self and we all came to together and came to the rink everyday and worked hard. We all had a great attitude and effort day in and day out and just believed anything is possible.
Q: What goals are out there for you to reach, both as a program and individually?
A: Our goals this year are to win the IRC (Iron Range Conference), win the section final and win the state tournament. Some goals we make might be blurry and out of sight but I know with the great bunch of kids we have we won’t end the season with any regrets and know we did our best! And we say everyday if we believe and work together anything is possible.
Q: What kind of in-season and off-season workouts/training do you do to prepare for the season?
A: We have an off-season training program which is called “Quicker, Faster, Stronger,” and it is a program that most of our team is dedicated to the whole off-season. We go down to the weight room at our arena mostly every day and work out on the program my dad puts on and keep track of our progress through out the off-season. We work a lot on leg strength and core because that’s the most important areas to work on for hockey. We do many arm work days as well.
Q: Do you play other sports at Virginia? Any other extracurricular activities?
A: I am also a singles tennis player for the Virginia boys’ team and have been on varsity since seventh grade and have been to the state tournament in tennis the last two years, as well.
Q: You've been called a rink rat by many people (the Minnesota Hockey Hub included). What does that mean to you? And what do you think that brings to your game?
A: Well, spending every single night during the season on our back rink just for fun and to improve on things really makes me feel like it has got me to where I am today as a player. It means a lot to be called that because of all the hours I spend back there. I think it brings a lot of the creativity to the game I play and really makes me a better and smarter player.