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Larger than life

07/16/2018, 1:00pm CDT
By Pete Waggoner

Minnesota hockey legend Larry Hendrickson leaves a legacy that will carry on with future generations.

Larry Hendrickson made an impact with countless members of the hockey community, both in Minnesota and beyond.

“Larger than life, with energy, with his giant biceps, giant Chesapeakes and giant trunks. He was like a fictional movie character,” Danny Hendrickson said of his father, Larry, who passed away on June 15 from complications of amyloidosis.  

The words passion, integrity, faith, love, innovator and commitment are consistent in every person’s words who had the pleasure of working with or knowing Larry. He made an impact, not only in the hockey world, but in teaching, business, family and friends, leaving an indelible mark with all.   

“He wanted to change the world,” his oldest daughter Christine said. “He never talked about it in that way. He didn’t need that much attention or credit, he did it. He did it in multiple careers as a teacher, coach, minister, disc jockey, entrepreneurial owner, as a foundation leader with the Herb Brooks Foundation, which he loved, and then with the Hendrickson Foundation.”
Early years
Hendrickson went to Washburn High School where he played hockey and football. He was a member of the Washburn hockey teams that went to back-to-back state tournaments in his junior and senior years in 1959 and 1960, and was inducted into the Washburn Hall of Fame. 

It was at Ramsey Page Junior High in Minneapolis that Hendrickson met Jane Hagen who would become his wife. “We met in seventh grade and he thought I was cute enough to trip me when I was handing out some music books,” Jane recalled. “We were buddies all through the years, but it wasn’t until our senior year that I looked at him and I said, well ya know, he is looking pretty good here, and we started going out our senior year.”

Jane wound up getting her teaching degree and had a contract with Minneapolis Public Schools while Larry continued his education at the University of Minnesota with the goal of teaching and coaching. He wound up getting his master’s degree from St. Thomas.  

Dick Bouchard would become a key component in Larry’s professional life after they met in the late 1960s. Bouchard had played some professional hockey including with the St. Paul Saints of the International Hockey League and the St. Paul Rangers of the Central Professional Hockey League. 

Bouchard held the head coaching position at Richfield High School and Larry joined him in 1968 to serve as his assistant. Eventually, Larry took over the head coaching reins as Bouchard moved on to Apple Valley High School. Hendrickson’s 1976 team that featured Steve Christoff went to the state tournament and lost in the championship game to Grand Rapids 4-3.

Larry and Jane started their family in the early 1970s and had four kids, Christine, Darby, Danny and Julie. Their childhoods were filled with love and compassion from their mother and father, with each parent providing the unique ability to fill in the blanks for each other.  

“The beauty of a marriage, you bump off of each other and one doesn’t do one thing,” Jane said. “It is constantly changing. One fills it up and then the other. That is the beauty of having two parents because you work together. What one is not able to do at the time, the other one was able to fill in and vice versa.” 

The Hendrickson family is a direct reflection of Larry and Jane as they all carry a love for people with a blend of compassion and passion that is reflected in them. 

Injury scare, survivor, faith
A neck injury while playing men’s senior hockey nearly ended Larry’s life in his late 20’s. If Jack Blatherwick and a few others had not been on the scene, Hendrickson may have suffered a different fate as they prevented him from getting up which was a fine line between paralysis and death. 

“He was given last rites and at the time of that accident, no one had ever survived that type of neck break,” Danny said. “He wore a body cast and halo for nine months. After he got out, it was a driving force for him to really get into lifting and to push his body to see how strong he could get.”

According to Jane, Larry had gone through nearly 30 procedures and surgeries on his body throughout his life, even surviving colon cancer about 10 years ago. “He had almost 30 events in his life that he overcame,” Jane recalled. “Surgeries on his knees, surgeries on his hands. I think he said he had nine hand surgeries.” 

To Larry, he always viewed life as a series of curveballs and it was how people dealt with them that made a difference. It was after the 1976 season with Richfield that inspired Hendrickson to go to seminary school. He was thankful for the opportunity to be a part of that Richfield team and was devoted to his work with Young Life and his faith. His decision to attend seminary school also saw him turn down an opportunity to coach with his friend Herb Brooks at the University of Minnesota. His faith was a constant and it lives in those closest to him – his family and friends. 

“He wasn’t afraid of much,” Darby said.  “He had a spiritual side that was unique. He could be that macho and tough guy that would work out in the weight room and have the big strong arms. He just had that balance part of him where as much as you viewed him as bigger than life, he wasn’t God either. He didn’t act that way. He had his own God he believed in that was a good balance for him.”

Maximizing potential
Larry was  known as a coach who could be firm, demanding and also draw the very best out of his players no matter their role or skill level on a team, treating everyone with the same passion and care. “He gave players ownership and the sense that they were important,” Danny said. “It wasn’t about him, it was about each player reaching his potential. He had a way to make people who played on the top line and people that didn’t play a ton feel that everyone was important.” 

It went beyond hockey and into business and teaching as well. “He was so broad,” Darby said. “He believed in people. Whether it was a friendship thing or a player thing, that belief he had empowered people to believe they could be better. He was a history teacher at Richfield where people just loved his classes. One of the people said they became a teacher because of him. I thought that was really neat. Someone I had never met came up to me and shared that. He had an impact in his way and he made people better.”

Mike MacMillan is currently the USA Hockey Coach-in-Chief, but he was the head coach at Buffalo High School prior to that. As a friend and assistant coach, MacMillan looked to Larry’s passion to teach through innovation and reach players of all age levels in a unique way.  

“He wanted to get better and he learned daily, as did my staff and I from him,” MacMillan said. “His knowledge of the game was amazing and the perspective he gave to our staff and players was very important. He actually may have been his best as our player development director which at the time was cutting edge. His ability to impact and motivate 8-year-olds to 18-year-olds was a gift. His infectious love of the game came through to those he coached.”

Erik Westrum played for Larry at Apple Valley High School in the mid-1990s and was a member of the 1996 state championship team.  

Erik recalled what made Larry special as a coach: “A lot of people talk about his will to win, a tough guy. The kind-hearted man he was, the leadership he provided the other coaches on our team, it didn’t matter if you were a fourth line JV guy or you were an all-state goaltender, he spent equal amount of time with guys. He took guys out to lunch in groups of two or three and mentored them.”

Never a dull moment
Larry opened his house to his friends and players where it became commonplace to have different people coming over to the house. He set up a weight room in the garage and for the Hendrickson family, welcoming others to their home was a way of life.  

“Never a dull moment,” Jane said. “We constantly had assistant coaches and players living with us. We had hockey players from Slovakia. We had coaches, teacher-coaches living in our house. We both loved it and everybody he brought to our humble abode was absolutely a quality person with the right values, doing what they did for the improvement of the young people and their skills. I think this is what the kids saw and they seemed to be marching to the same drum.”

For Julie, who is the youngest in the family, her first exposure to life at the Hendrickson household was when she was just under a month old in November of 1979. The 1980 U.S. Olympic Team was hosted by the Hendricksons and it featured a turkey dinner prepared by Jane.  

“It was an exciting life,” Julie said. “There were a lot of different influences, but hockey was one that you couldn’t get away from. If you go in our garage, there’s pictures of Larry and having the 1980 Olympic Team over to lift weights. We have kind of a museum over at the house that started as long as I can remember.”

According to Danny, coaching was a big part of Larry’s life and he never paused for an opportunity when it presented itself. “He saw one of my buddies that was wearing a shirt that said Big Team - Little Me,” Danny said, “And he said, ‘That is absolutely silly.  It’s Big Team - Big Me.’ If you can understand that you are not more important than the team and that you are as important as the team, then the team is going to reach its potential. Thinking you were small is not a way that he coached. He tried to coach people to think that they were big.”

Giving back
After coaching at Richfield High School, Hendrickson went on to help his good friend Herb Brooks prepare for the 1980 Olympics. He was the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota North Stars. He coached at Apple Valley High School and in 1981 guided his team to the state tournament. He would return to Apple Valley after working with the Gophers and North Stars to lead his team to the state title in 1996. That included their instant classic five-overtime win over Duluth East. He coached at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, helping the program transition from Class A to AA hockey and went on to assist MacMillan at Buffalo. He was inducted into the Minnesota High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.  

Larry consistently gave to others, a theme that was as large as the muscles he built on not only himself, but others. The heart that he had and the character he shared has been on display and continues through his work. He worked with the Herb Brooks Foundation and then was approached by MacMillan to look into a new endeavor.  

“At the time, he was in transition and wasn’t sure what was next, and I felt he needed something,” MacMillan said. “The timing was right in that I had just come back from USA Hockey sled development camp and had worked with his friend and mine, Jeff Sauer, and met some great athletes. It was eye-opening for me and thought he should take a look at the possibility of what could be done to help athletes in Minnesota. We at the time were not producing sled players at the national level and it didn’t seem right to me. Minnesota was hosting the National Disabled Festival and it was a great opportunity to meet athletes that truly truly loved the game. So he called and said he wanted to create a foundation. I remember he was with Brooks Foundation at the time. We met and formed a board and now how many years later we have a robust living foundation helping hundreds of disabled athletes in Minnesota!”

Larry was known to be passionate and dedicated. His life went to another level with the Hendrickson Foundation and for some of the time his health was not want he wanted it to be. 

“Most people know about his passion, but his passion was for giving back and to all athletes, not just pros and college,” MacMillan said. “Not just ellite, but mites were as important to him as pros. Disabled athletes were more important than all. His eyes light up around Special, Sled and Warrior players and families.”  

Through Hendrickson’s “curveballs” in life, there was a genuine connection to the Hendrickson Foundation and what it stands for. 

“He felt he was given a gift and wanted to share it,” MacMillan added. “His family was the most important thing to him from Jane to his kids, and he loved them for what they have become, he was a very proud dad and husband. His love for Jane was special and he talked about her all the time and even needed my counsel when he screwed up!!” 

The Hendrickson Foundation’s motto is “Hockey Changes Lives.” The Foundation supports sled hockey, special hockey, and military hockey in Minnesota. When Larry was aware that he would not survive amyloidosis, he started to turn the reins of the Hendrickson Foundation over to Danny. 

Legacy lives on
Larry Hendrickson’s legacy lives on through the Hendrickson Foundation, his work with the Herb Brooks Foundation and in every player he touched along the way.  Ironically, Erik Westrum is the head coach at Southwest Christian/Richfield and he feels a connection with the history of Richfield and Larry’s impact. Richfield High School hockey is running a co-op with Southwest Christian to keep the program alive. It is something very important to Westrum. 

“The Richfield tradition, with what Larry put into it. Darby and Danny, you go back to all the guys who played there and you can’t have this thing just fold up an shrivel away. I think for me, it is kind of crazy, it comes full circle. On Thursday, we were sitting at the American Legion right next to the Richfield hockey rink where I am coaching that team and I am literally building a program how my dad and Larry did.” 

“Larry was a guy that I shared with everyone in the world around us,” Julie said. “It’s tough to lose this strong figure that is always there and he has always been consistent and never traveled too much unless it was hockey and you could always count on him to be at every function.”

“There is only one Herb Brooks in the world,” Danny said. “There is no comparison to Herb Brooks or Wayne Gretzky because they are legends. The one thing I think about Larry is that if you compare him to so many other great people that have done good things in Minnesota hockey, the range of people that he impacted is as wide as any other great Minnesota coach or person.” 

Larry Hendrickson takes a back seat to no one as to the impact he had on hockey and the large number of people along the way and it will continue for a long time to come.  

The Hendrickson family

J.P Parise, Herb Brooks and Larry Hendrickson

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Pete Waggoner