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'DREAM COME TRUE'

Skill, speed and tenacity - Flames first-round draft pick Matt Coronato is the total package

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Forget all the goals, gaudy as they were.  

The franchise records?

Impressive, no doubt. 

But when you draft a player with the nickname, 'The Bison,' it's pretty clear what kind of competitor lies within. 

 

Video: "It's so special - I'm really excited"

 

"The announcer with the Steel, Mark Citron, and our hockey operations guy, Johnny Lehmann, they came up with it after I scored," said Matt Coronato, the Flames' first-round selection in the NHL Draft. 

The clip is one of the greats in broadcasting lore. Citron leans into his mic and delivers a grave, guttural growwwwwl, mimicking the portly beast. 

"I'm not exactly sure how they came up with it, but they say it's because I go to the net hard and ram like a bison," Coronato chuckled. 

"It's funny and very entertaining."

 

Tweet from @ChicagoSteel: Coronato leads the @USHL with 23 goals in 26 games played while Farrell leads the league with 37 helpers in 27 games played@waubonsee | #WeAreSteel https://t.co/GY2j03EqkP pic.twitter.com/fCZlrqWfBX

 

Fitting, too, because Coronato is a bit of a 'monster' himself.

Nobody else in the 2021 draft class had numbers in the same stratosphere. He led the entire USHL with 48 goals last year - 16 clear of his teammate Erik Middendorf and Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Danil Gushchin, in only 51 games. 

The blinding sum set a Chicago Steel franchise record for goals in a single season, while a scant three others in league history have ever had more. 

So, no, there's little question about the 5-foot-10, 183-lb. honey badger does best - terrorizing opponents with a sweet set of mitts and the fiery belly that drives an unparralled passion for the game.

To put it simply, the Flames got themselves a gem. 

"He's not a perimeter guy that cheats to score," said General Manager Brad Treliving. "He's a very well-rounded player, which is unique when you're talking about a guy with his finishing skill.

"His ability... He drives possession, he's responsible defensively, he plays inside the game and brings a lot of stuff inside the blue paint. 

"The hardest thing to do in this league is score, and he's got a real knack for it. But how you score determines your ability to translate that from amateur to the pro level, and we think it's going to translate well."

Coronato didn't stop at a record-setting regular season. He went on to torch the USHL playoffs with nine tucks and 13 points in eight post-season tilts, helping the Steel record their second Clark Cup title in franchise history. 

Stepping up when the games matter most is what elite players do. 

For Coronato, he not only did that and put a blitz on the scoresheet - he played in key situations defensively and thrived in the process. 

"Something that I'm proud of in my game is my ability to play 200 feet," Coronato said. "I'm really competitive and I contribute in all three zones. My work ethic might be my biggest asset. That, and the goal-scoring are things I need to continue to work on, but are (also) the biggest parts of my game."

Coronato is listed as a right-winger, but has experience in the middle and has no preference about where he would slot in best at the big-league level. 

He'll surely get some additional exposure at all three forward tracts next year when he debuts at Harvard University. The Huntington, N.Y., native is excited about taking that next step in his development, but is clear that he wants to be in the NHL - with the Flames - as quickly as possible. 

His ascension to the pro ranks can't be too far off, considering his rapid ascension with the Steel.

"People will talk about his goal-scoring - and I think he's up there in terms of one of the pure goal-scorers in the draft - but it's how he scores his goals," Treliving said. "He scores in a variety of ways.

"But the constant is the motor he has, the ability to go into hard areas and out-will people to create chances for himself and his teammates. He's highly competitive, highly intelligent. Excellent shot. Excellent release. 

"He's a hard-working kid that's driven to succeed. We really like the player and we're excited to select him."

 

Video: USHL forward Matt Coronato drafted with 13th pick

 

As a rookie in 2019-20, Coronato put up 18 goals, along with 22 helpers, in 45 outings. To best those figures by such an astronomical percentage less than a calendar year later speaks to the creativity and refined puck skills he brings to the table. 

Many have compared him to Calgary native and two-time Cup winner Brayden Point - not only for that continuously revved-up engine, the sandpaper, the bullish way that he attacks on the forecheck, but for the silk in his game, too. 

There's an elegance to his finishing ability. He has poise with the puck. Patience. He can release it on any angle from any area of the ice and pick corners with ease, like another USHL grad - Johnny Gaudreau. 

It's a lethal combination. 

"There are a lot of things (I still need to work on)," Coronato said "I need to get ready for that next level, get stronger against bigger, stronger, older guys. I definitely need to get faster, improve on my skating and my mobility. I think there are lots of parts of my game that need improvement, but I'm excited to get after it."

That, beyond the sizzling point total, drew the Flames even closer to this player as they conducted their pre-draft interviews. 

It's a sign of maturity to assess your own development path in such fine detail. 

Clearly, Coronato has a good head on his shoulders. 

"This is a high-character kid," Treliving said. He's a beloved teammate with leadership skills. 

"All those boxes are checked."

For the second straight year, draft night looked a bit different around the NHL. 

But for Coronato, Luke Hughes, Cole Sillinger and countless others attending USA Hockey's World Junior Summer Showcase, even more so. They were all shacked up in a hotel ballroom, surrounding by family and teammates as they watched the action unfold, one agonizing pick at a time. 

The bizarre setup made for some exciting TV.

But even those thrilling reactions weren't nearly as gripping as the simple, cheerful, three-word tweet he sent only moments after the selection:

"Dream come true!"

Says it all, doesn't it? 

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