When T.J. Hensick laced up his skates and threw on an Avalanche jersey in Colorado’s rookie camp two weeks ago, he said it felt good. He also admitted it was a little strange. That’s because before this camp, everything in Hensick’s recent life had revolved around the University of Michigan’s hockey program.
“It’s definitely a different feel,” he explained.”Not being a part of the Michigan program is something I’m not used to just yet.”
It’s understandable because Hensick had a solid four years under Wolverines head coach Red Berenson back in Ann Arbor. Most notably, he was the heart and soul of the squad last season where he led the nation in scoring with 69 points (23 goals, 46 assists), assists-per-game (1.12) and points-per-game (1.68) in 41 contests.
That speaks volumes for a player who was considering skipping his senior year altogether to kick-start his pro career with the Avs. Not only did he return to the Wolverines to better himself, but he also put the proverbial exclamation point on his collegiate career.
“It was definitely a tough decision,” said the former U.S. NTDP product. “I went back and forth all summer about what I wanted to do. In the long run, I felt another year at Michigan, both maturity wise and putting on a couple pounds of muscle would help me here with Colorado.”
From a development angle, Hensick was glad he made the decision to stay. With offense being his strong suit, he looked to grow mentality and physically while Berenson challenged the pivot to improve his overall game.
“Not only was I supposed to score goals for Michigan, but I was also expected to shut down opposing team’s top lines,” he said. “Being in that setting as well as having to kill penalties last year has really helped me become a better two-way player. That is what I am going to have to do here if I want to play at the next level,” he said.
But as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end.
“It was definitely the best four years of my life so far,” he said about his career with the Wolverines. “I can’t say enough about the program, the players, and the people who surrounded us. I absolutely loved suiting up and playing in front of the Yost crowd. At the same time, I knew I had to move on. So far, it’s been exciting to play and be a part of the Avs organization.”
Making his shot count
Now a week into main camp with the Avalanche, the Michigan native doesn’t appear to show any signs of being homesick.
He admits it’s been an eye-opener, but he’s been quick to study the pro game and make the adjustments he knows he needs to make to be successful at his level.
“The game is definitely a bit faster,” he explained. “The biggest change for me is that the guys up here are so much smarter and better with their positional game.”
And what about generating offense?
“For me personally, at least from an organizational standpoint, I think they know I can play offense, score goals and set up plays,” Hensick said.
Not trying to get ahead of himself, he’s been looking to do the small things that matter the most first.
“I think for me right now, I need to show them that I can play two-way hockey,” he explained. “That includes winning face-offs, blocking shots, making sure I pick up my man in the zone and that I’m backchecking hard.”
He’s not putting his offensive game on the shelf. Hensick has actually been making a lot of noise on the scoring front in team scrimmages. However, it’s his overall approach that has been paying dividends.
“If I can take care of the defensive side of the puck, I think it could put them in a situation where they might have to keep me,” Hensick said. “I’m not necessarily putting away my offensive side, but making sure I’m playing both ways first.”
The ‘C’ stands for confidence
Hensick will tell you that his first training camp is a part of the bigger battle, one he’s happy to be fighting.
“It’s been an uphill battle because again, you‘re playing against guys that are smarter, better positionally and more physical,” he said.
He also knows that the competition is stiff and the roster spots aren’t plentiful, but he’s still going to try to keep himself on the radar.
“For me right now, it’s all about putting myself in the situation where the coaches are constantly noticing me,” the Avalanche’s former third-round pick said. “I think I’ve done that so far in the rookie camp and here in the main camp.”
The veterans may have the experience and inside track at camp, but Hensick combats that by gaining a little bit of confidence day after day to chip away at the advantage.
“Confidence is the one big thing you thrive on,” Hensick explained. “It’s slowly starting to build up here at the pro ranks.”
He realizes building up his confidence is a process and it’s not going to grow overnight. So far, he feels it’s going in the right direction and he hopes that added factor will help him close in on a roster spot.
“Each day is a new day and there might not be another day,” he explained about fighting for a roster spot. “I have to take advantage and be hungry for every shift and every chance I get to play for these guys.”
When the preseason concludes, he’s hoping he’ll be with the Avalanche. If it isn’t in the cards for him right now, he promised he’d fight his way back to Colorado.
“If I’m lucky enough to stay up here that’s going to be great,” he finally added. “But if I have to work my way back up from the AHL, I’m willing to do that too.”
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.