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Is Auston Matthews the Most Unlikely 70-goal Scorer Ever?

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews is on the verge of scoring scoring 70 goals this season. How did he get his start in Arizona?

Although it hasn’t happened yet, there’s a good chance Auston Matthews will hit the 70-goal milestone in one of his next two games. He’s grown into one of the NHL’s premier talents, but he didn’t follow the typical path to hockey greatness.

Born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, where ice and snow are rare, Matthews discovered his love for the game at a small, unconventional facility known as Ozzie Ice. This unassuming arena, built by oil pipeline entrepreneur Dwayne Osadchuk, featured miniature synthetic ice rinks that challenged young players like Matthews to excel in tight spaces.

Related: For the Maple Leafs, There’s More than the Playoffs

What Was Ozzie Ice Like as an Arena?

Ozzie Ice was far from the expansive, regulation-sized rinks where Canadian youngsters typically hone their skills. Instead, the facility’s compact layout forced players to interact constantly and make quick decisions. In shades of today’s NHL overtime sessions, every game was a 3-on-3 affair. That seemed to work for Matthews because it gave him ample opportunities to develop his stickhandling, vision, and scoring prowess.

Despite the limitations of the environment, Matthews thrived. His remarkable abilities often allowed him to dominate games against older opponents.

Former NHL Player Sean Whyte Remembers Matthews as a Kid

Sean Whyte, a former NHL player and manager of Ozzie Ice, recalled Matthews’ insatiable passion for the game. As a regular fixture at the facility, Matthews eagerly awaited joining pickup games. In those games, he often played against much older competition. Whyte remembered Matthews as a relentless competitor, capable of scoring multiple goals per game, even at a young age.

Auston Matthews Maple Leafs

Matthews’ father, Brian, recognized the value of Ozzie Ice as a productive training ground. While other parents spent huge sums of money sending their children to distant hockey teams, Brian saw Ozzie Ice as a cost-effective alternative delivering invaluable skill development. The confined spaces and constant pressure of 3-on-3 play taught Matthews crucial skills, including improvisation, spatial awareness, and the ability to stickhandle under pressure.

Over Time, Matthews’ Reputation Outgrew Arizona

Over time, Matthews’ reputation grew beyond Arizona. He began displaying his talents in hockey tournaments outside the state. By the time of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Matthews had emerged as a top prospect, ultimately becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first overall pick. It was a historic milestone for a player hailing from a warm-weather city.

Although Ozzie Ice has long since closed its doors, its impact on Matthews’ development remains profound. The facility has now been reshaped into a thrift store. Yet, it reminds fans of Matthews’ journey from bizarre beginnings to NHL superstardom. He’s now on the verge of doing something no NHL player has done in 31 seasons. That’s scoring 70 goals.

Matthews’ success is a testament to a father’s creativity in taking advantage of what was there. Yet, it’s also a story about how a youngster utilized his experiences to shape his passions. Ozzie Ice helped shape Matthews into the transformative player that he currently is.

Matthews’ Rise to NHL Prominance Is Untypical, Yet So Typical as Well

Matthews worked diligently to develop his skills like any young hockey player, even in non-traditional hockey regions like Arizona. His remarkable journey from such humble beginnings to NHL stardom is truly inspiring.

Matthews’ success undoubtedly encourages young players everywhere, including aspiring athletes in Arizona. He has likely become a hero to many youngsters in the state, including his current teammate and fellow Arizona native Matthew Knies. Good luck to Matthews in his quest over the next two games.

Related: Maple Leafs Provide Updates on Several Player Injuries

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