Auston Matthews is the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s also an interesting character, who’s squeezed a lot of life into his less than a quarter of a century of living.
In this post, I want to share nine things that Maple Leafs (or other) fans might now know about this great young hockey player.
Things You Might Not Know #1: Played in Switzerland
Matthews took a different path to the NHL. Instead of playing junior hockey, he went on a bit of an adventure. He chose to play professionally during his last year before being eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, signing a one-year contract with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League.
During his time with Zurich, he scored 24 goals and added 22 assists (for 46 points) in 36 games. That season, he won the league’s Rising Star award and was second in voting for the league’s most valuable player.
Things You Might Not Know #2: Matthews Learned How to Play Hockey on Artificial Ice
Matthews grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. There, because real ice was scarce, he learned how to play on artificial ice. That former artificial ice surface was at a place called Ozzie Ice. It has since been turned into a thrift store.
As Auston’s father Brian noted, his son Auston played on these tiny ice sheets for hours on end against all the levels of competition. It was like playing in a shoebox, but there was lots of opportunity to score. Father Brian noted that “The score was always like 45-42 or 31-30.” There Matthews played thousands of 3-on-3 games as a youngster.
Matthews’ father Brian recalled that at Ozzie Ice “you couldn’t go anywhere on the ice where someone wasn’t within 20 feet of you. You had to learn how to use your hands, how to think ahead, where the puck was going to go, who was coming, how to turn, how to get away from traffic, create space – all of that stuff – in such a small little window of ice. A lot of kids here developed a lot of really good skills there. They were forced to.”
Related: THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY IN MAPLE LEAFS’ 5-2 WIN OVER FLYERS
Things You Might Not Know #3: Matthews Is Good Friends with Justin Bieber
Matthews and Justin Bieber share a bit of a rockstar friendship. One thing that Matthews laughs about is that Bieber is just a regular hockey fan.
Matthews noted that “When we first started talking and becoming friends and stuff, [Bieber] texted me like, ‘We need a D-man. We need a guy like Brian McCabe.” Matthews shared that he “just laughed so hard because it’s like, you’re no different than the guy on the street that’s coming up to me being like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you. Can I get a picture? Man, we need guy … We need this, we need that.'”
Things You Might Not Know #4: Matthews Being Drafter #1 Was an Oddity
The fact that Matthews was chosen first by the Maple Leafs as the Number One draft pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft was an oddity. Prior to Matthews’ choice, the last US-born player who had been drafted first overall was Patrick Kane who was chosen by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007.
Things You Might Not Know #5: When Matthews Played in Switzerland, His Mom Threw a Birthday Bash for His Teammates
When Matthews played in Switzerland, it was a family affair. His mother Ema Matthews helped her son celebrate his 18th birthday (which is on September 17) by making Auston’s favorite meal for Matthews and his Zurich teammates.
As Matthews recalls, “I love mom’s chicken tortilla soup; she made it for the team for my birthday in Zurich; and, afterward, the wives of almost half the players were asking for the recipe. They all liked it a lot. It was pretty neat and it kind of broke the ice on my birthday.”
Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 5-2 Win Over the Flyers
Things You Might Not Know #6: When He Was Young, Fame Embarrassed Matthews
Fans hardly think of Matthews as humble or shy; and, in fact, he might not be any longer. However, when he played in Switzerland, in an early-season game (October 9), Matthews scored two goals. The second goal was the game-winner 3:32 into the third period and gave Zurich a 3-2 win over its arch-rival Davos. Fans began chanting his name after the game-winner.
The experience completely flustered the young Matthews. Matthews remembered, “It was probably one of the most memorable games of the year because it was the first time Zurich and Davos played since the 2015 National League A final. I was able to score two goals, and the game-winner off a great pass from Robert Nilsson.”
Matthews added that “After the game, the fans began chanting my name and jumping up and down. I was just looking up into the crowd and saying, ‘This is crazy.’ But what I didn’t know was that, when the crowd does that in Switzerland, you’re expected to return to the ice by yourself and salute the fans. I had no idea, and everyone was yelling at me that I had to go back. I was so confused as to what was going on, but once I figured it out, it was pretty special.”
Things You Might Not Know #7: Matthews Loved Hockey from the Time He Was a Toddler
Matthews attended his first hockey game when he was only two years old. He loved it and he began playing hockey only four years later.
Matthews recalls that “My father and uncle (Billy) took me to my first Phoenix Coyotes’ hockey game when I was 2 years old … I remember thinking what a fast-paced game it was. It was really fun to watch, and once I started playing, I was intrigued even more. I can’t really explain it. It was just a passion to play the game that came over me.”
Things You Might Not Know #8: Matthews Loved Hockey But Was a Better Baseball Player
At one time, Matthews was a much better baseball player than a hockey player. That might make all sorts of sense growing up in sunny Phoenix, Arizona.
As Matthews recalls: “I was really into baseball because my dad and grandpop played it growing up. I really enjoyed hitting the most, and that was really my strong suit. I enjoyed catching as well.”
Matthews noted that “It’s kind of different because usually in hockey it’s Dad who takes you to the pond, but it’s a little different coming from Arizona. My dad (Brian) played baseball in college. I did enjoy baseball, and it was certainly something I liked to play, but hockey would become my No. 1 passion.”
Things You Might Not Know #9: Why Is Matthews’ Nickname Papi?
Matthews’ has an interesting nickname – “Papi.” Knowing how much Matthews loved baseball might offer a bit of a hint.
His favorite player when he was growing up was David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. In fact, that’s Matthews’ inspiration for wearing No. 34. Although Matthews’ father thought his son was better at baseball, the sport was too slow for Auston. That’s why he chose hockey and it became his passion.
Lucky Maple Leafs.
Related: Third-Period Dust-Up Could Become Maple Leafs Turning Point
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