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Matt Hackett's emergence no surprise to NHL uncle

by Curtis Zupke
LOS ANGELES -- Those that didn't know any better probably would have guessed that Matt Hackett was running on pure adrenaline.

As so often happens when one finally steps on NHL ice, the blood flows and the brain buzzes with the excitement of living out a lifelong dream.

That appears to be evident with Hackett, who made his NHL debut and first start within 72 hours this week for the Minnesota Wild.

He saw the puck well. He anticipated plays. His glove hand was quick. In other words, he looked like he had been there before.

Jeff Hackett knows why.

"He's very calm. He looked very calm in the net. He's got quick feet. They say that's his strength. As he's developing here as a pro, he's reading the play better. I think he just loves being a goalie. He loves the competitiveness of the position." -- Jeff Hackett on his nephew Matt Hackett

Having tutored his 21-year-old nephew since he was nine, Jeff saw one thing stand out during all those practice sessions, camps and workouts while he grew up in London, Ontario.

"He's very calm," said Jeff, a 15-year NHL goalie. "He looked very calm in the net. He's got quick feet. They say that's his strength. As he's developing here as a pro, he's reading the play better. I think he just loves being a goalie. He loves the competitiveness of the position."

Matt Hackett's emergence is one of the neat subplots behind Minnesota's surge to the top of the League standings this season. The Wild rode Hackett's 42-save performance Thursday to their franchise-record sixth straight road victory.

Recalled as an emergency goalie because of an injury to Niklas Backstrom earlier this week, Hackett was thrust into Tuesday's game against the San Jose Sharks 71 seconds in when Josh Harding injured his neck.

He stopped all 34 shots he faced in his NHL debut. Two nights later Hackett won his first start, against the Los Angeles Kings, when he stopped 16 of 18 shots in the third period and flashed that glove and quick pads.

His shutout streak to start his NHL career lasted 1:02:36. Hackett stopped the first 65 shots of his NHL career, and 76 of 78 in his first two games.

"Best 72 hours of my life so far," he said after the game. "We've just got to keep it going. I'm just living the dream right now."


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A week ago Hackett was having a terrific, yet anonymous season with the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston, where he is 9-3-3 with a 2.11 goals-against average.

The NHL might as well have been years away, given that Backstrom is among the NHL's top-tier backstoppers and Harding is one of the better backups.

But Hackett became the youngest player to appear in goal for the 11-year-old Wild, and his uncle said it's been wonderful to see it unfold.

"I think it's a great part of his development," Jeff Hackett said. "He's a very coachable kid; very easy to coach. He just wants to be a very good pro."

Jeff played for six teams in his NHL career -- ironically, he was San Jose's No. 1 goalie during its inaugural season. He also was a goaltending coach for Colorado for three seasons.

As much as he taught and influenced his nephew, though, Jeff felt it was important for Matt to develop his own style.

"He's his own goalie," Jeff said.

That's not to say that Matt wasn't heavily influenced by an uncle that won 166 NHL games and recorded 26 shutouts.

"I watched him growing up -- all his games," Matt said. "He's my idol. I want to be like him. I think that my style actually compares to his."

Jeff Hackett played at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. Matt Hackett is listed at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds.

Not only is that on the light side for today's standard netminder, it's almost dangerous considering the 6-foot-2, 220-pound wingers barreling in on goal these days.

Jeff said Matt's physique is right, though.

"He's got a very nice, athletic build for a goalie," Jeff said. "His arms look longer. I noticed that in the summer.

"I do see a lot of what I did (in Matt). The game's changed and he's adapted well to the style of play. He's a very good student. He's always looking to better."

Jeff, who has run goaltending camps, is hands-off with Matt at this stage of his career. He prefers Matt to lie in the capable hands of Minnesota goalie coach Bob Mason.

Matt Hackett
Goalie - MIN
RECORD: 2-0-0
GAA: 1.01 | SVP: 0.974
"We go over a few things in the summer," Jeff said. "I'm pretty up to date. Unless he calls me in the winter I don't talk to him about things. You don't step over what Bob Mason does."

Mason was designated by first-year Minnesota coach Mike Yeo to inform Matt that he would start Thursday.

"When Mase told him, he had a smile on his face, so we knew he was okay," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.

Hackett's precocious maturity hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"I think poise is a good word," Dany Heatley said after Thursday's game. "He's kind of a quiet guy in general. But he gets in the zone, pretty calm, just lets the puck come to him, and he's been real solid for us. His first game, he comes off the bench cold and shuts the door. Tonight he was steady for us all night long."

Hackett doesn't quite know where that poise comes from, but it has something to do with trial by error.

"I'm just a calm kid, I guess," he said. "In junior I wasn't too calm. But I found that when I wasn't calm, then I would get a little rattled and didn't play my game very well, so I wanted to calm down."

Hackett probably won't be on this ride for much longer as Backstrom is getting better, although he's making a darn good case to stick around.

Asked half-jokingly if there was a goalie controversy brewing, Yeo smiled and said, "We got really good goaltending. We've got three of them. But, no, there's no controversy."
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