NHL stud Matthews still has huge impact on Arizona youth
This time, the mid-February crowd outside of the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room inside Gila River Arena was electric and captivating.
Sure, there was the usual gathering of friends and supporters hanging around after each Arizona Coyotes game, but this crowd was dynamic and vibrant.
They came to see and be seen with Scottsdale native Auston Matthews, who was in his home region for the only time during the NHL season. Nearly by himself, Matthews has put Arizona on the hockey map.
Matthews recently signed a five-year extension with Toronto for a reported $58.17 million. That averages out to $11.634 mil per year and still makes Matthews an unrestricted free agent at age 26.
Despite piling up points and helping the Leafs near the top of the NHL, Matthews was shut down during the only appearance in his hometown. During the Feb. 16 contest, Matthews managed a team-high four shots on net but was held in check by Brad Richardson and the Coyotes’ top checking line.
“It’s frustrating for sure,” he said after the Leafs were shut out 2-0 by the Coyotes before a sell-out crowd. “You come back here and you want to perform and win the game, but we just didn’t have it. They outworked us and many areas and we really didn’t have an answer.”
Humble and unassuming, Matthews talks of his hockey origins with the same reverence that others talk of his NHL debut. That was on Oct. 12, 2016, when he scored four goals against the Ottawa Senators and became the first player in modern NHL history to score four in his first game.
Now at 21, the Arizona Bobcats graduate is in his third season with the Leafs and already has put his fingerprints on the franchise. At the same time, Matthews, whose family settled in Scottsdale just after his birth in San Ramon, Calif., reminds listeners of the importance of playing in Arizona at a high level.
Because of the mark Matthews leaves on his hometown, there is always a big, red circle on the calendar to designate the Leafs’ lone game of the season at Gila River Arena.
“It’s special coming back here,” said Matthews, the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. “Obviously, you see all the signs and all the kids. It’s pretty humbling for me to see the impact I think I’ve had here in my hometown. It’s pretty special and extremely humbling. The last couple of years, I’ve been pretty lucky. I get to spend a few days here at home and I love coming home.”
In concert with his current production on the ice. Matthews traces his origins back to the Ice Den in Scottsdale and the days he followed Shane Doan. While it’s not unusual for fans to gravitate to their heroes, Matthews and Doan formed a unique bond.
“The unique thing about playing here is that it’s not uncommon for boys coming to the rink to run into three or four NHL players,” Doan said. “For someone to come over and talk to NHL guys is pretty common. I got to meet Matthews when he was younger and talked to him a couple of times. He went away to the U.S. National Team Development Program and when he came back, you could see the growth. What he did was absolutely phenomenal. Since then, he’s grown so much more where it’s crazy.”
His current coach agrees.
“He’s a real good person and I don’t know if you met his mom and dad and his family, but they’re real good people,” said Toronto coach Mike Babcock. “I think it’s a real good thing for Arizona. One of the native sons comes home and not only is he a real good player, he is a real good person.”
Photo/Eric J. Fowler
— Mark Brown
(April 3, 2019)