In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the perseverance and determination of center Matthew Ward (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) of East Islip, N.Y. Despite the fact he has missed most of the season due to injury or illness, Ward continues to exhibit tremendous support and leadership. When he is on the ice, he remains one of the team's most talented players.
Matty plays center and right wing and he was our leading scorer last year. He's very talented and has tremendous speed -- he's got three or four gears. He's faced a lot of adversity this year.
While we try to accentuate the positive, sometimes you get thrown curveballs and through all of this, players have had to deal with the ups and the downs. It has been tough on Matt because it seems like he's had one thing after the other.
He started out by having some strange groin issues over a period of a time and then we found out he needed a double hernia operation. So he was working himself back and was finally getting some strength back and went through physical therapy. But during our tournament in Chicago, he was hit along the boards and suffered a bruised kidney in November; so after finally coming back from a double hernia operation, he gets hit and is now out six weeks. And you have to be very careful with a bruised kidney -- you can't take part in much contact. Then, after he finally started coming back from that, he developed some tendinitis in his knee and once that sets in, it's another process of getting that inflammation out. The tendon area takes a while to settle down and heal. He's probably played in about 20 percent of our games this year and, at times, it's no fun. It can be very frustrating.
I know what that is like; going through major knee construction, tendinitis and shoulder injuries. It comes with the territory. Not only does the body have to heal, but the mind and confidence and everything else, because it is a setback.
But through it all, Matt's father has been amazing. Matt's had to keep a good attitude but that's hard. Each game you want to be out there and he faced a lot of adversity. I'm so excited for him to get back into the lineup recently. He's currently dealing with slight whiplash, but we need his speed in the upcoming tournament.
When Matty is in the lineup, we'll go four lines, short shifts. He has a set line that he plays with. He's had to battle with not being out there and being frustrated, but around the players and guys, he's been great. Matty has been part of our success, and whether you're a pro, amateur or playing youth hockey, your team should always make you feel like you are a part of it. I remember going through my injuries … it sure is a good feeling when your team reaches out to you and makes you feel a part of it because they wish you were out there. A lot of it is dealing with that -- not having that sport you love to play so there's a mental aspect and a physical aspect.
Matt is a very unique athlete. He's missed time due to injuries and it's been a really trying year for a 16-year-old, especially when all the hype is around the team. This is a big year for him and then all this stuff happens -- that's a tough time for any athlete to handle. How do you keep your focus? How do you keep your dreams in front of you when you feel as though you're stale and stagnant due to some unfortunate circumstances?
But here's the best part about Matty Ward -- he's playing games right now and is still one of the more dominant skaters on the ice. Even though he's missed all this time, he's an extraordinarily talented player. Even though he hasn't been at every practice, he has pure natural ability and remains a dominant factor. He's still on the radar and that's unbelievable for a guy who's missed as much time as he has. He's going to be a player who demonstrates his flair down the road. When people see him, they add him to the list right away.
His hands and skating ability are unreal. Even on a bad leg, he's still one of the fastest skaters on the ice, which is scary to think what he'll be like when healthy. He still has a lot of years to develop and heal and be prepared. He's willing to do anything he can to help team out. He's always a factor on the penalty-kill and will get you a shorthanded goal. He's fun to watch.
It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.
— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process
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