Sunday, January 30, 2011


At the All star Break with Shawn Matthias

Shawn Matthias is currently in the midst of his third National Hockey League campaign with the Florida Panthers. This season, however, is slightly different, and much more exciting for the young centre. He has been with the club since the opening of training camp.

In his first two seasons, he was subject to the roller coaster ride experienced by most young players in the league: the old “call up, sent down” syndrome. In fact, in his first NHL season, he did the trip on four separate occasions between the parent club and the American League affiliate in Rochester.

“I’m having a great time here,” he told me after a recent game at the Bank/Atlantic Centre in Florida. He is living the dream of so many young Canadian hopefuls now closing out their seasons in North America. Come to think of it, in many parts of the world. With the advent of players in the game from around the globe, the level of competition has increased as well.

Matthias experienced gradual growth in his Ontario Hockey League career. He joined the Belleville Bulls in 2004, and spent the next four years with the team. In his rookie campaign, he dressed for 37 games, and recorded one goal and one assist. The following year, he picked it up a notch, recording 34 points. In his third season with the Bulls, he recorded 73 points in regular season play. More importantly, he led the team to the Memorial Cup finals with 18 points in 15 games. In 53 games in his final year with the Bulls, he tallied 79 points.

When we chatted recently, he reminisced fondly about his days in Belleville. “It was a great place to play. The fans were unbelievable. Please give my best to my billets, Bill and Phyllis Ferguson.” He then chuckled and added, “They hate it when I mention their names!”

In the most recent official blurb from the Panthers, it is noted that the team is enjoying success on and off the ice, and is nicely following GM Dale Tallon’s “Blueprint” for success. Dallon recently helped guide the Chicago Black Hawks to the Stanley Cup. His predecessor, Bill Torrey, was successful in building the New York Islander franchise in its heyday.

Matthias is approaching this year as another learning year. He is asked to play a lot of different roles on the team, and enjoys that aspect of the game. He has become a most proficient face-off artist. I remarked that he had won almost all of the face-offs he had during the recent game in Florida. He glared at me, raised an eyebrow, and stated, “I thought I had won them all!” That elicited a series of mumbles from this scribe.

The Panthers sit at the .500 mark at this time. They have been beset with a series of injuries, naturally affecting their success on the ice. Bryan McCabe is out with a broken jaw. Byron Bitz has been unavailable since training camp with a sports hernia. Chris Higgins has just returned to the lineup after missing several games. Dmitry Kulikov is listed as “day to day” with a rib injury. They are out of the playoff picture at this time, but with a string of victories, they could be in the hunt within the month.

They have a host of fine young prospects on the roster: Mike Santorelli, Keaton Ellerby, Michael Frolik, Kulikov,Evgeny Dadonov, and Matthias. Then there are several other younger players ready to step up to the big time: Erik Gudbranson from the Kingston Frontenacs, his teammate Quinton Howden from the Team Canada Juniors, Nick Bjugstad and Drew Shore from Team USA, and Joonas Donskoi from Team Finland.

It is a most competitive world. Every player in the NHL is aware of that. Matthias averages about twelve minutes per game, and has almost twenty points in less than fifty games at the Break. At six feet, four inches, he commands a fair amount of space on the ice. The Panthers can use his size, his fine hands, and his growing expertise to gain a foothold in their quest for a playoff berth this year. They face the Leafs and the Habs on the road right after the Break, play in New Jersey, then return home for two weeks. Needless to say, a most critical time for the Cats.

All Belleville Bulls fans wish him well.

James Hurst
January 30, 2011

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