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Matthews navigating Swiss life with assist from mom

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

When Auston Matthews' mother isn't making arrangements to watch her son play in some sold-out hockey arena in Switzerland, she's either helping him with schoolwork or providing a home-cooked meal.

"I cook every day; typically breakfast and dinner," Ema Matthews told NHL.com. "I don't have to make lunch that much as Auston will go out with teammates after practice.

"Every now and again we'll go out to eat, but mostly I'm cooking to make sure he gets the nutrition he needs."

Ema Matthews is helping her son Auston in his day-to-day life as he nears the 2016 NHL Draft. (Photo: ZSC Lions)

Ema is doing everything she can to provide some sense of normalcy in an otherwise uncommon path to the NHL for Auston, 18, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Not only is Matthews looking to become the first American-born player selected first in the draft since Patrick Kane to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, but also the first player starring in Europe to go No. 1 since Alex Ovechkin to the Washington Capitals in 2004.

Matthews opted for the road less traveled when he headed overseas to play for the Zurich Lions in Switzerland's top professional league in his draft year instead of taking the more common approach of either competing in college or in the Canadian Hockey League.

Ema never thought twice about packing her bags and joining her son to help live out his dream.

"The whole family felt it was important for Auston to have family support in another country," she said. "It was a relatively easy decision for all of us. We understood the sacrifices we were making, and any of them would have done the same for the others if asked."

Auston is grateful his mom has been able to help with his transition.

"It's been great to have mom and my sister Alex here," Matthews said. "When I was in Ann Arbor with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program the past two years, I didn't get to see mom much so it's nice to be able to spend time with her."

It's been especially nice to have the support of mom while rehabilitating an upper-body injury sustained Oct. 23 that has forced him to miss the past six games. Matthews, who was given an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list that was released Tuesday, hopes to return to the lineup Wednesday against Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss Ice Hockey Cup.

Ema and Alex, who is in Switzerland as a visitor, attend every home game at Hallenstadion. They have also experienced a few road games since no game is longer than a 40-minute drive. When Auston isn't playing hockey, he's on his computer taking classes online at the University of Nebraska, spending a few hours each day in the evening.

"Alex helps tutor Auston with some of his classes he takes online," Ema Matthews said. "She didn't take the entire semester off, so she has some college classes she's taking online as well. When she's not tied up with Auston, she'll help me around the house."

Ema has been proud with the way Auston has juggled hockey and schoolwork.

"He has been very responsible," she said. "After practice, training, whatever, he relaxes for a little bit and then he'll work on school. That's some good training from the time he spent with the National Team Development Program."

Matthews has been adamant about eating right and getting the proper sleep, something his mom knows is critical to his health and endurance.

"He's so dedicated to nutrition, to his off-ice work, studying the game," Ema Matthews said. "His desire to be better, to get better, is impressive. He's always focused on the weaker parts of his game. He's our son and, as his mom, he amazes me every day."

What has made it more amazing is the fact the Matthews family has made the sacrifice some 5,600-plus miles away from their real home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Auston's father Brian has remained in Arizona while his son and wife live in Switzerland.

"I talk with Dad pretty much every day, giving him an update on my day and how practice went or how I'm feeling," Matthews said. "We have a really close relationship and he's played a huge role in getting me to where I am."

Ema was asked if she's had any time to explore the country with Auston.

"When we can, of course, but his first priority is to Zurich, learning, training, getting better," Ema Matthews said. "As time permits, or his schedule permits, we take some trips or go out and have lunch somewhere. I love visiting downtown and my favorite local place is probably Lake Zurich."

Auston said his mom is more privy to the little areas of Zurich that he has been unable to visit.

"My mom and sister have found time to explore the country and even Germany as well," Auston said. "They've hiked some mountains and toured a castle there too. Hockey season is pretty busy, so I haven't been able to do too much with practices and games, but I'm looking forward to our breaks during the season to be able to do that."

One such break will come next month when Matthews is expected to lead the United States at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, from Dec. 26, 2015 through Jan. 5, 2016.

Zurich coach Marc Crawford got to know Matthews and his family during the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Switzerland in April. He spoke with Matthews' parents and answered their questions. Ema said Crawford has played a vital role in making them feel right at home in Switzerland.

"Marc and his wife, Helen, have been incredibly helpful from the beginning," Ema said. "Helen has helped me navigate the different customs and how things are done in Switzerland as compared to the U.S. We sometimes carpool to games; they have both been wonderful."

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