By Larry Wigge
Some players are just made for the NHL. They just have IT. The confidence of being the guy when the moment arrives.
In a February 13 game, Adam Henrique in the right wing circle. Then, he sent it back to John Moore ... and back to Henrique for a one-timer and a goal 2:58 into overtime for a New Jersey Devils victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Henrique celebrated ... with a quick fist-pump into the air.
Adam went down to one knee and lifting the puck over Michal Neuvirth's outstretched glove for his third goal in New Jersey's last four games and 19th of the season.
The Brantford, Ontario, native, has reached 20 goals once in his first four seasons -- scoring a career-high 25 goals in 2013-14. With twenty-some-odd-games left he had a chance to surpass his career-high.
"He's cool with the pressure," explained center Travis Zajac. "I think he thrives in these big game, these big moments. He's a sneaky player, he's shifty. He finds the players, the holes. He just has a knack for creating plays.
"He's been a key player all year. All he's done in the playoffs is elevated his game."
A good skater and really smart player. He's very intelligent. He’s defensive, he’s offensive. Can play on any line.
All of this leads us to why ... and how Henrique was discovered.
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 of the Devils delight that Henrique was still there in the third round and the 82nd pick overall. "He's so quick shooting the puck. It's on the blade and bang it's in the net."
But he was a rookie during that Devils playoff run, which came up short against the Los Angeles Kings in six games of the Stanley Cup finals.
We remember that 6-foot, 195-pound rookie forward, the guy who told us, "Somebody has to be the hero, right? Why not me?"
You've got to like the confidence. No fear. No second guessing. Only poise and patience.
Former New Jersey star winger Ilya Kovalchuk, a former winger of Henrique, was asked if he's ever seen Adam nervous.
"Nervous? Not really," Kovalchuk said.
"I don't think I've ever seen him rattled by anything," said David Clarkson, a former teammate who now plays with Columbus. "He's a fast skater. He works hard. He sees the ice really well."
Those are just the kind of qualities that Pronovost saw in Henrique prior to the draft.
He became 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.
"Power play, offensively, penalty kill, defensively, faceoffs. He's that kind of player for us right now," said goaltender Corey Schneider of the injury that sidelined Henrique. "We went to war with --- the group we had, but it was nice to have him back."
Some players just have it ... the confidence of being the guy when The Moment arrives.
Adam Henrique showed us in the playoff run of 2012 that he had the aptitude and capability of being that guy.
Joe and Theresa Henrique knew all about Adam long before. They were Henrique's parents. Joe farms 50 acres of tobacco and ginseng in Burford, Ontario, about 90 minutes southwest of Toronto.
Harvesting tobacco was difficult, messy work.
"You sit on a machine, and you're kind of bent over and picking by hand," Teresa said. "The leaves are smacking you in the face and getting black tar on everything, all over you."
"He was never really an early-morning person," Joe said. "He preferred to play hockey."
Henrique's father also made sure to tell his four 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.
In fact, Henrique remembers the year Rob Blake won the Stanley Cup with Colorado.
"I always remember that Stanley Cup party when I was little," Adam recalled. "That was a pretty neat memory. Neighboring towns. My dad buys forklifts from one of his relatives. So that was pretty neat. But my dad wouldn't let me touch the Cup. He knew there is some unwritten rule that you can't touch the Cup ... unless you've earned it."
And now, Adam is having the most fun of his life.
"Growing up, everyone around here is a Leafs fan, but I was a Wings fan and my favorite player growing up was Steve Yzerman," remarked Henrique, who had a poster of Yzerman on his wall at home. "The first time I really got into watching hockey was when Detroit won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and '98 and he was just the guy that stood out.
"When I was young, if I could have been anyone, it would have been him for sure. I was lucky enough to be able to meet him a handful of times now and it's been pretty cool every time. He was a leader on the team, always out there in the key moments of a game."
San Jose's Peter DeBoer said of coaching Henrique for four seasons, "What makes Adam special? He's unflappable. I didn't think about his age. We were way beyond that."
Had he finally made it at the start of the 2011-12 season? And, more important, was he ready for a long playoff run.
"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."
Remember that larger than life Adam Henrique bobblehead doll? The Devils planned to give one away to a lucky fan. There is a second one that Henrique intends to ship to his parents' house in Burford, Ontario.
How to get the bobblehead there?
"I want to come pick it up, put it in the back of the truck and see what happens when we're trying to cross the Canadian border," said Joe Henrique. "How do you declare this one? That's just a giant bobblehead."
"Hopefully, they don't cut it open," Adam Henrique said.
"We'll lay it down in the box and then when we get close to the Canadian border in Fort Erie, we'll stand it up, strap it down and then see what customs has got to say," Joe Henrique said. "That would be something to see that."
Like father like son. The Henriques are always looking into what's right.