|Mathieu Melanson has registered at least one point in 12 consecutive games and leads the Florida Everblades with 26 points.
If the hair-metal group Cinderella contributed anything positive to this world, it’s this: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
Mathieu Melanson learned that the hard way.
After a tremendous junior hockey career that culminated with a Memorial Cup championship in 2006, there were changes in Melanson’s life. His junior eligibility was up, and the Minnesota Wild, who drafted him in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Draft, declined to offer him a contract.
Melanson decided to give college hockey a try, as he found himself at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Despite tallying 11 points in nine games, Melanson was unhappy. He gave up the game he loved.
But the game wasn’t ready to give up on Melanson. The son of former NHL goaltender Roland Melanson, he spent one restless evening after another before opting to give hockey another chance.
“I just missed it,” Melanson said. “It felt like I was too young to stop playing. Every night going to bed, it felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. When you lose something and you miss it, sometimes that’s the best way to realize what you want.”
The 22-year-old joined up with the Stockton Thunder late last season, and paid immediate dividends. In just 17 games, the right wing compiled 14 goals and 12 assists, helping the team reach the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Offers from Europe were aplenty over the summer, but Melanson figured that if he signed to play overseas, he’d be surrendering his dream of one day playing in the NHL. He wanted to stay in North America – and, more importantly, play somewhere he would be comfortable on and off the ice.
Enter Gerry Fleming’s Florida Everblades.
Now in his seventh season behind the bench in the Sunshine State, Fleming has known Melanson for more than decade, as the Everblades coach was friendly with Roland Melanson when both were playing in the Montreal Canadiens’ organization more than a decade ago. The young Melanson asked the Stockton Thunder to deal him to Florida, and Stockton obliged in an Oct. 5 deal.
“Actually, it’s one of the only places I would have played,” Melanson said. “I wanted to come play for Gerry. I had offers in Europe. I was leaning toward that route unless Gerry could swing something to get me from Stockton, and he was able to. I was very fortunate and thankful to get an opportunity to come play here.”
“If my goal wasn’t to play in the NHL someday, I’d be in Europe right now,” he added. “I wanted to play another year in the ECHL to prove that I can one day play in the NHL. I’m hoping that it will come along. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid. Hopefully my play opens doors this year.”
Fleming is more than happy to have him. Not only did he acquire a player he’s known for more than 10 years, but one who was less than two years removed from scoring 25 goals in 23 playoff games for the Quebec Remparts.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Fleming said. “He’s a very emotional guy. He tells you what he’s feeling and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He was a big factor in Quebec’s run when they won the Memorial Cup. He’s a pretty good hockey player.”
The move has benefited both sides. Melanson has flourished under Fleming and currently is one of the ECHL’s hottest players. He has registered at least one point in 12 consecutive games – the league’s best streak – and leads the Everblades with 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists). His play has helped Florida get off to a 13-6-0 start.
“You play hockey to win games … that’s why everybody plays,” Melanson said. “It’s a team sport. Your first goal is always to win. When you can have personal success at the same time, it doesn’t get any better than that. Right now, it’s a great feeling around here. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
While the Everblades certainly would like to see Melanson continue his torrid scoring pace, Fleming said his main responsibility is to make sure the rookie forward becomes a solid two-way player. In the long run, Melanson’s defensive game likely will decide how far he goes in his professional career.
So far, Fleming likes what he sees.
“He’s playing really well,” Fleming said. “When he first came here, we talked about being smart and playing well without the puck and adding that to his game. He’s just a gifted goal scorer that knows when he’s in a certain area how to put it in the net. But we challenged him to play without the puck if he wanted to move on to the next level, and he’s really played well without the puck.”
Regardless of what happens, Melanson won’t have to worry about disappointing his father. Mathieu says the three-time Stanley Cup champion never pressured him to play hockey.
“My dad was a goalie; he was his own person, his own player,” Melanson said. “I haven’t had the comparisons too much growing up. I can’t say there’s been any pressure. My dad has always let us make our own choices.”
That’s obvious, considering he’s as far away from his father’s position as possible on the ice.
“I tried it when I was young, and it wasn’t for me,” Melanson said of being a goalie. “I’d rather shoot on net than get shot on.”
It’s certainly worked out to this point. And now that Fleming has rewarded Melanson with a chance to play on the top line in Florida, Melanson would like to repay his coach the best way he knows how.
“Gerry’s been here (almost) 10 years now, and he’s never won a Kelly Cup,” Melanson said. “It’d be nice to win that for him. I think we’ve got a good team here and we’ve got a chance. I’m not focusing necessarily on personal stats.”
Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.