James Mirtle from the Globe and Mail recently did a deep-dive profile of Arizona native Auston Matthews and his development path from youth hockey to becoming the NHL’s top prospect. Among the consistent themes was the high priority Matthews and his family placed on skill development, especially through American Development Model tenets like small-ice hockey, appropriate practice-to-game ratios and meaningful games. Consider the following excerpts:
Mirtle: “To fully understand how Auston Matthews got to where he is, you need to know that when he was a boy, he spent thousands of hours on tiny rinks – not much larger than an end zone – fighting off two or three other kids, stickhandling in and around masses of skates and sticks … Every game was 3-on-3, which meant more time with the puck, more time in close quarters and a need to find a way through a tight spot … He took a road never traveled, learning the game in creative, new ways. And it paid off.”
Mirtle: “He knew how important development is … Having his son play on the smaller sheet, for hours on end against all kinds of competition, made sense to the new hockey dad. He thought that it was similar to how so many soccer greats started in the slums and gyms of Brazil with their own makeshift games of futsal, the 5-on-5 version of soccer.”
Brian Matthews (Auston’s Dad): “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.”
Marc Crawford, Stanley Cup-winning head coach: “(Auston’s) puckhandling skills are off the chart. I’m always amazed at the things he can do. And it really translates in a game. His short-area game is at an NHL level for sure – and it’s at an NHL elite level. I believe that’s a lot of what the game is becoming. Those little plays that you make when you’re getting checked. People are pinching up so much more now and there’s so much confrontation at the bluelines that you’ve got to be able to make plays in that five-foot area. You’ve got to be able to protect the puck and get by people.”
Mirtle: “There were two years where he didn’t join a travel team and instead skated with Boris or on his own … What Matthews also proves … is that there is more than one way to become an NHL superstar. It’s not all about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment and travel teams … There is something to be said for taking the road less traveled, for focusing on skills development and having fun instead of short bursts of ice time in game after meaningless game.”
To read the full story, click here.