"You get that same sort of rush. When you get that bite of a fish, your heart races. It keeps you alive."
-- Cincinnati's Matt Pierce
When he was younger, he'd go ice fishing near his home in Pakenham, Ont. He'd pack his skates, too, because ice fishing can take all day and sometimes you need a little diversion to pass the time.
"If we got lucky, there was no snow and you could go for a skate. You'd go for a little twirl on the ice," he said. "You get lucky. You go fishing and (play) hockey at the same time."
Adulthood usually forces priorities to emerge, although in Pierce's case they still kind of jumble together. There may not be a more passionate or skilled fisherman in the ECHL. Luckily for the Cyclones, Pierce sits on the same plateau when it comes to finding the back of the net.
Through 15 games, Pierce, 24, is second among league rookies with 12 goals.
Scoring or hooking the big one? Hooking the big one or scoring? Hmmm … tough choice. Why can't he have both, just at different times of the year?
"You get that same sort of rush," Pierce said, trying to compare the two accomplishments. "When you get that bite of a fish, your heart races. It keeps you alive."
Those are the types of things that run in your blood, which makes sense considering the same man taught Pierce both skills. Pierce's, father, Randy, played 277 games in the NHL with Colorado Rockies, Hartford Whalers and New Jersey Devils. Cyclones coach Chuck Weber said Matt's solid hockey foundation is obvious.
"He acts like a pro," Weber said. "He does the little things it sometimes takes rookies time to understand, doing the extra work as far as going out and working on your game."
"Once I was able to realize the game of hockey more, he was always able to teach me small things," Matt said. "I always remember him talking about how the game was when he played. He's been through it all. He's taught me ways to protect myself. It's just like having a coach, but your coach is your father. He's still got it. It's tough to get a puck off him."
Randy saved his best piece of advice for Matt's college years. Matt attended Mercyhurst, in Erie, Pa., a location that fed his fishing fervor. He said he once caught a 6-pound bass there. Or something close to that.
"It's a fishing story. You have to make it bigger than it actually is," Pierce said.
If only hockey numbers were that easy to fudge. In his first two seasons there, Pierce had 15 goals combined. It was right about that time dad happened to mention to typically pass-first Matt that he might want to work on developing his shot and then start using it more. Matt thought that sounded reasonable.
"If you are going to be a goal-scoring forward, you have to have a shot," he said.
As a junior, Pierce scored 15 goals in 41 games. In his senior season, he had 24 goals in 37 contests.
"By the time of my junior year, I started to figure out how to score. My dad told me to shoot more, stop trying to make the play for everybody else," Pierce said. "That's when I figured out I could put the puck in the net. That's what I've been trying to do lately. You try to shoot as much as you can, but you try to make the right play. You try to pick and choose."
Weber said Pierce's versatility in the offensive zone is the reason his points total gets pumped up.
"Matt definitely has a knack around the net," Weber said. "He comes out early to work on his shot, he stays late. A lot of his goals are tips around the net, or rebounds. And he's an exceptional skater. He's definitely opportunistic. When he does have a scoring chance, it doesn't take him many to finish."
Pierce's numbers reflect that predatory nature. His .250 shooting percentage (12 goals on 48 shots) is tied for fourth among league rookies. He's also been money on the power play, with his 6 extra-man goals leading all newcomers.
"I'm playing pretty well right now. I've always been a little bit of a streaky player," he said. "You'd like to hope (it's) because you are working hard and not getting lucky. My confidence is getting better."
At this clip, Pierce will have loads of tales to swap around the ol' fishing hole. That may not happen in Cincinnati, though. He's tried to go out a couple of times with teammates there, but hasn't yet found a jumping spot.
That won't be a problem in the fertile ponds and lakes back home, where hockey and angling mix so naturally. And unlike the occasionally exaggerated fishing tale, Pierce won't have to inflate his hockey accomplishments a bit.
"I fish with a lot of guys who do play hockey. It's a good time to reflect on how the year went, or how it's going," he said. "It's definitely a good way to relax."