For a sport that has a long history of great players like Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux, and Gordie Howe just to name a few, the future of the sport could belong to a much less traditional super star. His name is Auston Matthews and he just finished second in the NHL in goal scoring as a rookie, after being drafted as the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Matthews is different than most NHL superstars because he had a very untraditional path to the NHL, has a hispanic heritage, and spends his offseason's in the desert.
Regardless of the personal differences between he and other young superstars like Connor McDavid and teammate Mitch Marner, it is clear that Matthews has some serious game. His skating, stick skills, and strength all rank at elite levels. What makes his incredible talent even more mind-blowing is the fact that Matthews is only 19 years old. He was the centerpiece for the Toronto Maple Leafs revival last season, leading them to their first playoff appearance since the 2013-14 season. Given that the Maple Leafs don't currently have a selected captain going into next season, it's likely that Matthews will have a C stitched onto his jersey in 2017-18. It's an exciting time to be a Toronto fan.
While most hockey fans know who Auston Matthews is, there is much to learn about the teenage superstar. This list looks at 15 interesting facts that will provide you with a more in depth look of the future face of the NHL and Team USA. Enjoy!
15 Matthews Grew Up In Arizona
While the majority of NHL players come from cold-weather climates and grew up practicing on frozen ponds, Auston Matthews was raised in a city where the temperature sits at 100 degrees or more for a majority of the year. Ahh yes, we are talking about the hockey hot bed known as Scottsdale, Arizona. If you couldn't sense the irony, it's actually rather incredible that Matthews developed into the all-world talent he is while growing up in a city with so few hockey resources.
Surprisingly, Arizona's youth hockey system has grown in popularity since the early 2000s and the improvement is now being shown with Matthew's generation. Still, what this proves is that anybody can develop NHL level skills in any climate or city if they have a strong enough desire to succeed, which Matthews clearly did. It didn't hurt that when Matthews was a youngster in Arizona, the state had a pretty star-loaded professional hockey team for him to look up to. Which brings us to the next fun fact.
14 His Favorite Team was The Phoenix Coyotes
Yes, Matthews grew up watching the Phoenix Coyotes (now known as the Arizona Coyotes) teams of the early 2000s that instilled in him a love for the sport. Although the Coyotes have been a bottom-feeding team in the Western Conference in recent years, they were actually pretty good during Matthews' childhood. Matthews grew up around names such as Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen, Daniel Briere, and the captain Coyote himself, Mr. Shane Doan.
While Matthews has probably already surpassed all of those names on terms of skill level, Toronto should thank those past Coyote teams for creating Matthew's passion for the sport at an early age. When asked, Matthews still openly admits that his favorite team was always the Coyotes. This displays a loyal character trait within Matthews that will prove valuable once Matthews is named as the next Leafs captain. Don't worry Leaf fans, Matthews won't be leaving Toronto to save his hometown Coyotes anytime soon.
13 He's The Only Player In Modern History to Score 4 Goals In Their First Game
After being drafted with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews immediately joined the starting ranks for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his highly anticipated NHL debut on October 12, 2016, Matthews put on an other-worldly performance that far exceeded all expectations. Specifically, Matthews scored four goals against Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
What made the performance even more incredible was that Matthews scored all four of the goals in the first two periods. This marked the first time in modern NHL history that a player scored four goals in their NHL debut. It was just a sign of things to come as Matthews led all rookies in goals scored (40), which was also good enough for the second best mark in the league behind only Sidney Crosby. Given his incredible skill-set, don't be surprised if Matthews wins several Maurice Richard Trophies before his career is over.
12 He Speaks Spanish
You would never know it based off his name, but Auston Matthews is half hispanic and is conversationally fluent in Spanish. For this he can thank his mother, Ema Matthews, who is from Hermosillo, Mexico. Although his Spanish speaking skills are probably rarely used in Toronto, it has the potential to make him into an even bigger international superstar and perhaps a spokesperson for the NHL in Mexico should they ever try to promote the sport into that market.
Matthews also shows his hispanic heritage when discussing his favorite home-cooked meal, which is chicken tortilla soup. The NHL would be wise to market this unique side of Matthews because it helps break down some stereotypes that surround the sport of hockey. At the least, it would be entertaining to see Matthews give some of his interview answers in Spanish every now and then. Hopefully for Toronto fans, Matthews will be singing "Somos Los Campeones" sometime in the near future.
11 He Grew Up Idolizing Keith Tkachuk and Then Played with Tkachuk's Son
It makes sense that since Matthews' favorite team growing up was the Coyotes that one of his favorite players to watch was longtime Coyote captain, Keith Tkachuk. Keith Tkachuk was one of the greatest players in Coyote history due to his great skill-set and toughness on the ice. Tkachuck had a son named Matthew that, coincidentally, was born in Arizona before being raised in St. Louis (another team that Tkachuk was great for).
In a strange twist of fate, Matthew Tkachuk and Auston Matthews both played for the Team USA Development Program team together. In fact, both often played on the same line alongside fellow rookie sensation and current Matthews teammate, Mitch Marner. You would think it could be strange for Matthews to play with Matthew Tkachuk after idolizing his father growing up, but the two actually became great friends. Given the relationship between Matthew and the Tkachuk's, it will be fun to watch these two young stars face off many times over the next decade.
10 He Loves His Arizona Women
When Auston Matthews turned pro, he was dating a tan little hottie from Arizona State named Emily Ruttledge. Ruttledge and Matthews appeared to be a pretty serious relationship as the two would frequently post pictures of each other on their social media accounts. It's unclear whether Matthews and Ruttledge are still dating, but it certainly doesn't seem like it.
The rumors of a break-up grew more intense after it was believed that Matthews' former fling, Jordyn Johnson, flew from Arizona to Toronto to spend some time with Mr. Matthews. Johnson is a model for Ford Models in Arizona and could possibly stealing Matthews' affection, although it appears that Matthews is more interested in winning championships than winning hearts at this point of his career. Regardless, it is evident that Matthews likes his Arizona girls. Sorry women of Toronto.
9 His Family Is Full of Athletes
Like many professional athletes, Auston Matthews comes from a family of former athletes that helped pave his way and provide guidance on his way to becoming a professional hockey player. Matthews' father was once a stand-out collegiate baseball player at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles before an injury prematurely ended his playing career. His uncle Wes Matthews was also a great athlete and played wide-receiver at Northeastern State before playing a season in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.
Wes Matthews was influential in helping Matthews calm his fears of playing against youth hockey teams from more established hockey regions. Making the NFL after playing at a small school in college was similar to Auston Matthews dream of making the NHL after growing up playing in the small hockey market of Arizona. For this reason, Auston Matthews always plays like each shift is his last and allows him to keep a small chip on his shoulder. It's clear that an athletic gene is shared amongst the Matthews family lineage.
8 His Mother and Sister Lived With Him In Switzerland
After completing his time with the United States National Development Program, Auston Matthews chose to forego playing at any of the major collegiate programs or junior leagues and instead decided to play professionally in Switzerland. Matthews signed with Swiss National League A team the ZSC Lions and immediately made his impact felt by scoring a goal in his first game with the Lions. Despite the fact that Matthews missed the first four games of the season, he finished the regular season as the Lions second best scorer and won the Swiss League "rising star" award.
Given the fact that Matthews wasn't even 18 years old when he first moved to Switzerland, his mother Ema decided to tag along and live with him during the season. Matthews' sister also joined him in Switzerland for much of his stay in the Swiss National League. Family is clearly very important to Matthews and having his mother and sister with him in Europe definitely helped his ability to focus strictly on hockey and preparing for his transition to the NHL.
7 He Missed the Legendary 2015 Draft By Only Two Days
The 2015 NHL Draft was one for the history books. For an entire year leading up to draft day, everybody and their mother knew that the first two picks would be Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, just nobody knew who would go #1 and #2. To put this into perspective, many scouts declared that both McDavid and Eichel were "generational talents" meaning that they were each immediately ready to become a franchise cornerstone. It was essentially like having Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the same draft.
Incredibly, if Auston Matthews were only two days older he would have been eligible for the 2015 draft as well. This would have created a three-headed monster at the top of the draft boards and changed the future of three lucky franchises, instead of just the two that did (Edmonton and Buffalo). What makes this even more interesting is had Matthews been eligible for the 2015 draft, it's possible he still would have been selected #3 overall and in that situation he would have been drafted by his hometown (and favorite) team, the Arizona Coyotes.
6 His Agent Is Pat Brisson
Known as the Jerry Maguire of Hockey, NHL agent Pat Brisson is famous for his impeccable list of athletes that he represents. In fact, Brisson represented the #1 overall draft pick in three consecutive drafts from 2005 to 2007. Those three players were Sidney Crosby, Erik Johnson, and Patrick Kane. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Brisson was able to convince Matthews to sign with his CAA agency given the fact that Matthews was considered a lock to be the #1 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Brisson list of athletes also represents Anze Kopitar, Seth Jones, John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux and many more. Given his impressive resume, Pat Brisson was named the co-head of the Hockey Division of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the world's biggest agencies. If that's not impressive enough, Brisson was also named the 12th most powerful agent in all of sports by the Sports Business Journal. Altogether, Brisson has negotiated hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for his athletes. With Matthews now on his athlete roster, that number will surely continue to grow.
5 He Broke Patrick Kane's USNTDP Scoring Record
In 2013, Auston Matthews joined the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and started gathering notable attention by NHL scouts. But it was Matthews' second season with the NTDP that officially signaled his arrival as a top-notch American skater with generational type vision and playmaking abilities. So how did Matthews throw his name to the top of the prospect list after only two seasons? Well all he did was break a NTDP scoring record set by NHL great Patrick Kane.
Specifically, Matthews registered an incredible 116 points during the 2015-2016 season, which included an absolutely mind blowing 55 goals and 61 assists. This number far surpassed the 102 points that Patrick Kane scored during his time with the development program. This opened many eyes around NHL front offices as they realized the next great American prospect was about coming up the ranks. What Matthews did in his time with the development program was unprecedented and it could be a long time before we see another American prospect as talented as him.
4 He Has a Massive Tattoo
Since being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Auston Matthews has had quite the offseason. Perhaps his most notable offseason moment so far, however, has been the revealing of his new tattoo. The tattoo, which was performed by tattoo artist Bubba Ink at Old Town Ink in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a highly detailed lion head wearing a king's crown. While the artistic value of the tattoo is high, what makes it so notable is the tattoo's massive size.
It stretches from his shoulder area all the way down to near his elbow. It's debatable what the symbolism of the tattoo means to Matthews, but it could be related to his time in the Swiss National League in which he played for the ZSC Lions. Or maybe it's just what the greats of their sports do these days (LeBron is also often symbolized with a Lion because of his status as "the king.") Whatever the reason, it appears that Matthews is a fan of ink so it will be interesting to see what other tattoo's he gets during his playing career.
3 He Trained on Tiny Rinks Growing Up
While many youth hockey stars were growing up playing on ultra competitive traveling teams, Auston Matthews was honing his skills on the tiny rinks located at a small hockey facility in Arizona called "Ozzie Ice." Ozzie Ice was known for it's small rinks (roughly the size of an endzone), in which games would be played 3 on 3. This interesting format actually helped Matthews develop his stick handling and ability to handle defensive pressure given the small rink size and fewer passing lanes.
His father believed this was similar to how many soccer stars from South America grew up playing their sport on small soccer fields that could only fit a 5 on 5 style of game. Another advantage of growing up near Ozzie Ice was that Matthews was provided the opportunity to play against older competition and hold his own. While unconventional, many NHL scouts believe the small rinks are responsible for the elite short-area game that Matthews now displays at the NHL level. Although Ozzie Ice is no longer existent, maybe small rink facilities will become a more desired option for youth hockey thanks to Matthews unique development path.
2 His Skating Coach Was a Revolutionary
Who is Boris Dorozhenko? He is a Ukrainian national raised in the former Soviet Union who immigrated to Mexico in hopes of developing a power skating and hockey skills program. After honing his craft in Mexico for over a decade, he held a skating camp in Phoenix, Arizona in 2005 and one of the attendees was a 7-year old Auston Matthews. Matthews' father, Brian, was impressed and wanted Auston to continue working with Boris. So Boris moved to America and lived with Matthews' grandparents.
The skating drills that Boris would put Matthews through were very non-traditional drills and never involved pucks or stick handling. His technique involved players skating on all four edges of their skates and would teach players how to synchronize their hands and feet in order to develop speed and power. Matthews bought in to Boris's odd training style and clearly the results have paid off big time, as Auston is considered one of the best young skaters in the NHL. Boris is now widely considered a power skating guru and holds various camps across the country. So who is Boris Dorozhenko? He's the man who made Auston Matthews an all-world skater.
1 He Was Better at Baseball
Growing up in a warm-weather climate in which many kids are able to play in year round baseball leagues, it should not be surprising that Auston Matthews also played youth baseball along with his youth hockey activities. What may surprise you is that Matthews was actually better at baseball than hockey for much of his childhood. While it is quite possible that Matthews' could have made the MLB had he chosen to stick with baseball, it was clear at an early age that his passion was on the ice.
Matthews' father stated that although Auston was great at baseball, there was "just too much standing around for him" in the sport of baseball. Even during his baseball games, Matthews would be itching to leave and hit the rink, so he eventually quit baseball to focus solely on his hockey endeavors. Clearly this was a great decision as Matthews is now a star in the NHL. Regardless, hockey fans should be thankful for the hand-eye coordination skills that Matthews developed playing baseball in his youth.