NEWARK, NJ — One of the most-beloved New Jersey Devils players of all-time once again thrilled fans at the Prudential Center with another memorable play.
For the Anaheim Ducks.
It was always going to be equal parts special and odd for Adam Henrique when he would play his first game in Newark as an opponent after his trade from the Devils to the Ducks on Nov. 30. From the fans waiting by the boards for his initial entrance onto the ice during warmups – some of them holding “We miss you, Rico” signs (“Rico” is Henrique’s nickname) – to knowing that some sort of public tribute was awaiting him at some point during the game, one could not blame the man who scored the most memorable goal in the Prudential Center’s 10-year history, the Eastern Conference Final series-ending overtime goal against the New York Rangers to lift the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, for being a ball of nerves before puck drop.
“I don’t know if pumped up is the word,” Henrique said to reporters after the game. “Nervous, anxious, excited, a little bit of everything kind of came into it. It was probably one of the longest games I’ve played personally.”
His performance Monday night also suggested that the game was also one of his finest, despite the Devils, now his opposition, coming away with a 5-3 victory. The Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead, with the second goal set up by Henrique’s outlet pass from his goal line to center ice, finding Andrew Cogliano, who centered a pass to Jakob Silfverberg on a 2-on-1 that the latter buried past New Jersey goalkeeper Cory Schneider.
In the second period, after the Devils had cut Anaheim’s lead in half, Henrique produced a moment of magic that normally would be reserved for a Hollywood script. At the end of a Ducks’ penalty kill, Henrique, while trying to skate out of his own zone, lifted the puck high into the air and over the head of Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen – the player for whom Henrique was traded for. Henrique chased down his own “alley-oop” pass, beating Vatanen to the puck before scoring past Schneider with a one-handed backhand shot to the roof of the net while Vatanen was draped on his back.
After the game, Henrique’s erstwhile head coach was left in amazement about the goal that had restored the Ducks’ two-goal advantage.
“That’s a little bit of Rico there,” said Devils head coach John Hynes with a rye smile. “He finds ways to do different things. If you look at him, it’s a smart play. He’s getting cut off at the net and he makes a dynamic play. Those are the things that a guy like him can do.”
Hynes, while mentioning that he did not really have mixed emotions going into tonight’s game because of Henrique’s return, elaborated about the moment when he had to personally tell Henrique the news that he was no longer a New Jersey Devil.
“It was little bit more emotional the day that he got traded,” Hynes said. “He got traded early in the morning. He came in and I met with him for a bit and talked for about 25 minutes. He’s a great person, he’s a very good hockey player. He meant a lot to our team and to the organization. I’m just happy to see him doing well. It seems like he fits in well [in Anaheim]. He plays an important role to their team.
“You like to see good things happen to young guys that play the game and do things the right way and Adam’s certainly one of those guys.”
The Devils organization saw all of the good things Henrique provided to New Jersey, and the team left no doubt in expressing its appreciation for him by playing a video tribute on the Jumbotron after the first media timeout. Henrique knew it was coming, but did not have an idea of what it would be like to see that tribute play out while sitting on the bench in the middle of a competitive National Hockey League game.
“I just kind of counted the seconds there to the timeout,” Henrique said. “I didn’t know what it would be like to watch. It was certainly nice to have a great ovation from the fans there, which was awesome, and the players, too, obviously. It was a special night from that side of things. Certainly an experience I’ll always remember.”
Alas, it was a memorable experience in a loss, as the Devils scored four unanswered goal to close out a 5-3 victory, with Miles Wood scoring the Devils’ first two goals of the game while former Anaheim Duck Stefan Noesen scored the game-winning goal and added an empty-netter for good measure. The Devils fans went home happy, not only for the win but to once again thank Henrique one more time for the seven full seasons he spent with the organization.
If the fans had a conflict of interest, Henrique could certainly empathize.
“I just kind of needed to get through those first five minutes and stay my lane,” Henrique said. It was a weird game for me, start to finish. Just trying to play my game and not focus on any of that stuff, but it was tough. It was good.”