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A Continuing Sauga

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs will head to training camp in September as big supporters of hometown hockey.

The club in years past has had its fair share of critics over the lack of Ontario born players on its roster, but those days are a thing of the past.

The Leafs will enter this season with seven Ontarians on its roster including Mississauga, Ontario's Shawn Matthias.

He'll join another Mississauga product in Daniel Winnik who has also followed the path once established from Toronto's west end to the team by former Leaf Matt Stajan.

Matthias is a big man at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds who can play either centre or the wing. He is coming off a banner season in Vancouver where he scored a career high 18 goals including 17 at even strength.

Getting a chance to build upon that as a Maple Leaf is incredible motivation for Matthias who grew up cheering for the team and his idol Mats Sundin.

Matthias left home 11 years ago to play junior hockey and has never looked back.

"It was tough to leave at such a young age, but I had four great years in Belleville and I lived with a great family in Bill and Phyllis Ferguson," said Matthias.

It's tough when you're 16 years old and leaving home for the first time but such sacrifices were necessary.

"I was eleven years old when I knew I wanted to play in the OHL," said Matthias. "I was lucky enough to get to a great town, live with a terrific family and experience four wonderful years."

More than a decade later Matthias finally returns to his roots, a career that's come full circle as he works on a one year deal that could possibly evolve into more.

"It was my goal to get to the NHL when I was five years old. Everyday when I was playing street hockey on the driveway shooting the ball off the garage door, the goal was to one day wear the Maple Leaf Jersey," said Matthias. "It's an honour to now be a part of this organization."

It has been a hectic offseason for Matthias who thrives on risks. Being signed to just a one-year contract is easy compared to his summer exploits in New Zealand where he leapt from a plane at 19,000 feet in a tandem skydive.

It's a highlight he'll always remember but wearing the Maple Leaf now and in 2008 as a member of Team Canada's World Junior champions are what really motivates him.

"It was a special tournament to play in with such a great group of guys who still joke around when we see other now," said Matthias. "That tournament was special because people didn't think we were going to win. They said we were too young, not skilled enough, but we came out and outworked every team, defied the odds and won the gold medal."

It's that same mindset and approach that Matthias will bring to the Leafs this season. It'll be music to head coach Mike Babcock's ears who'll preach exactly that when camp begins in Halifax in mid-september.

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