By Larry Wigge
"Somebody has to be the hero, right? Why not me?"
You would think those comments came from a veteran of the Stanley Cup wars like Ilya Kovalchuk or Patrik Elias, not from a 22-year-old rookie with little or no experience like Adam Henrique. But Henrique said it. He's the rookie who wondered, "Why not me?"
For the second time in this year's playoffs the series was on the line ... and for the second time it was the kid who slammed the puck hard into the net.
No fear. No second guessing. Only poise and patience.
Adam Henrique just stood there at the edge of the goal crease. He waited and waited ... until, it was time to pounce.
"That one was like Christmas," said Henrique. "I couldn't see the puck, but I knew he was down and I was just praying it was gonna come under his pad ..."
He was calm and collected and he waited to complete his sentence.
"Finally, the puck came from and I slammed it in," Henrique continued. "It's a big one. That's one you dream about."
Sixty-three seconds into overtime of Game 6 Friday night in the Eastern Conference finals, Henrique converted a mad scramble for a 3-2 New Jersey Devils victory over the New York Rangers to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals.
It was the second time this postseason Henrique has come up with a series-clinching overtime marker. In Game 7 of the first round against Florida, the kid from Brantford, Ontario, native found the net, beating Panthers netminder Jose Theodore in double-OT to set up a second-round matchup with Philadelphia.
"Unflappable," coach Peter DeBoer said. "The kid is just right place, right time, all the time. The two biggest goals of the playoffs come off his stick, and that's not accidental."
Somebody has to be the hero, right? Why not me?
That's exactly what Henrique told reporters after his first success in overtime magic earlier in the playoffs. There must be some kind of abracadabra involved, eh?
Henrique has done everything asked of him all season, counting for 16 goals and 35 assists in 74 regular-season games and another three goals and eight assists in 18 playoff games.
All three of his goals came in those two playoff game of note -- in the decisive games against Florida and the New York Rangers. Maybe that why he is a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the NHL's top rookie.
Goalie Martin Brodeur is excited to see the contributions from the young players.
"It's great ... these kids are a big part of our success," Brodeur said. "Adam's had success everywhere he's played, so it's nice for him to come through in the NHL like that."
He's the second player in NHL history to score two series-clinching overtime goals in one playoff year. The first was Calgary's Martin Gelinas in 2004. Furthermore, Henrique's two OT goals tie the rookie record for one playoff year (series deciders or not) set by Montreal's Jacques Lemaire in 1968 and equaled by Claude Lemieux in 1986 and Colorado's Milan Hejduk in 1999.
Joe and Theresa Henrique were there in the stands cheering for their son. Joe Henrique had his four sons working summers on the family farm in Burford, Ontario. The cash crop was tobacco, and Adam Henrique's job for one summer was priming leaves.
"You're going up and down the rows, sitting on this little metal seat with this cushion, almost right on the ground," he recalled. "Your legs are straight out, and you're bent over all day."
He stretched his legs out, twisted to his side and said: "You're like this, picking leaves, putting the leaves in your bag. The leaves are hitting you in the face. It's wet. You got tar all over you. And you've got an 80-pound bag that you're filling up. It's no fun."
Henrique's father also made sure to tell his sons they could prime tobacco for a living or find something more enjoyable, lucrative and comfortable. Adam admired his father for his work ethic, but priming tobacco made Adam chase a career in hockey a little harder.
And now, Adam is having the most fun of his life.
Said captain Zach Parise, "He's just like the rest of the team -- getting better as the playoffs go on."
The 6-feet, 200 pound center played in one game with the Devils last season. He prepared to make it to New Jersey to stay this time.
"I told myself, no matter what happens, to stay positive," Henrique said. "But this is where I always wanted to be. Due to injuries and a couple of opportunities, I got a chance to play, almost right away. That was something I tried to take advantage of, and it all worked out."
DeBoer is most impressed by Henrique’s composure. DeBoer has said Henrique does not get overwhelmed by any kind of situation at any point of the game. Henrique, the coach said, tends to play even better when the stakes are higher. He does not play much like a 22-year-old.
"I don't think about his age right now," DeBoer said. "We're way beyond that."
Henrique scored 111 goals in four seasons for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He won two Memorial Cups with Windsor as a junior. He's a winner, plain and simple.
A third-round draft choice of the Devils in 2008, he played mostly for the Albany Devils last season, scoring 25 goals.
Nothing has seemed to faze him yet.
Said Clarkson: "I don't think I've ever seen him rattled by anything."
"This is the big stage. The NHL playoffs playing for the Stanley Cup is what everybody dreams about," Henrique said. "You dream about having this opportunity. Luckily for me as a young guy getting this experience early in my career you can't replace that.
"There are guys here that have been in the league and haven't gone this deep. I just try to take it all in and learn as much as I can as a young guy."
He doesn't feel pressure.
"No. I don't feel any pressure more than at any other point. I'm just playing every day," he said. "I focus on myself and my game and what I need to do in order to be successful and help the team win. Score a goal, win a faceoff, kill a penalty. Whatever it is."
Ilya Kovalchuk was asked if he's ever seen Henrique nervous.
"Nervous? Not really," Kovalchuk said. "What is he, 21? He's a grown man. We're all nervous before every game."
Those are just the kind of qualities that the Devils saw in Henrique prior to the draft.
Marcel Pronovost, one of the Devils top scouts, was one of the loudest voices telling Devils's draft guru David Conte to take Henrique in the 2008 NHL draft, he did so based on what he knew not projections.
Henrique was always a solid offensive contributor -- a 30-goal scorer. Pronovost said Henrique's unselfish nature and his willingness to play a surprisingly physical game for a player of such skill makes him the perfect foil for Taylor Hall, Adam's linemate, and the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.
"One is a flash of blades and the other Henrique has a helluva shot," Pronovost said. "He's so quick shooting the puck. It's on the blade and bang it's in the net."
It was just as fast in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers, the puck was on Adam Henrique's blade and bang it was in the net.
Hey, Henrique's not your gruntwork tobacco farm worker. He's got a very special talent in hockey.