Michigan forward Charlie Henderson has skated at Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena dozens of times. But the East Lansing native has never come out of the tunnel wearing maize and blue. He’s never absorbed the harassment of the Spartan faithful. And he can’t wait to do it.
“I’ve always dreamed about playing at Munn,” Henderson, whose uncle is the rink manager there, said. “Ever since I came here, I’ve been looking forward to the date that I play against (Michigan State) there.”
Last year, the Wolverines faced the Spartans in the historic “Cold War” outdoors at Spartan Stadium. As a result, Henderson hasn’t had a chance to play at Michigan State’s home ice arena as a Wolverine. He is hoping that this will be his chance.
It’s been a frustrating year thus far for the sophomore. After walking on as a freshman, Henderson earned a spot as a regular in the lineup over the second half of last season and he took advantage, notching 13 points and seven goals.
But things haven’t gone the way he would have hoped yet this year. All season, Henderson has been struggling to earn the playing time that he used to get consistently. He has dressed in just 12 of 28 games so far this season.
“He had a good year last year,” associate coach Mel Pearson said. “He scored some big goals for us in the second half, so he’s capable. Unfortunately this year, there have just been some people who have probably played better than he has.”
For Henderson, that’s been tough to swallow.
“It’s been really difficult for me,” Henderson said. “Last year, I got accustomed to playing all the time and (I got in) a groove. This year it’s just a little bit tougher to find a groove and to keep that confidence going that I had last year. But you’ve got to just keep working hard, and if you keep working hard good things will happen.”
His efforts are starting to pay off.
Last weekend against Northern Michigan, Henderson returned to the lineup and provided a spark for the Wolverines. He didn’t score a goal, but Henderson’s play still drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
“Charlie, I thought, came in and played really well this weekend,” Pearson said. “Even though he didn’t score, he added some speed and jump.”
Pearson thought Henderson’s success was a by-product of the high pace at which he practices. Sophomore forward Eric Nystrom agreed.
“The whole season, no matter what, whether he’s in the lineup or out of the lineup, he works his butt off every day he comes to the rink,” Nystrom said. “That’s tough to do, especially when you’re out of the lineup and your confidence is down.”
With freshman Brandon Kaleniecki questionable for this weekend’s series due to a high ankle sprain, it’s possible that Henderson will be back on the ice against the Spartans. And if he is, the trip to East Lansing will have been a long time coming for Henderson.
“Friday night’s going to be a big game; I don’t want to look past that. But Saturday will be unbelievable, just because it’s my hometown,” Henderson said. “So hopefully I get a chance to play… there in front of my hometown, family and friends.”