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Senators brace for return of Matthews, Maple Leafs

Center back in Ottawa one year after memorable four-goal NHL debut

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson doesn't require hours of video study to be reminded of the raw skill of Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews.

He need only look up at the stick hanging on his wall to remember.

The Maple Leafs play the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, CITY, TVA Sports), just 374 days after Matthews stepped onto the ice in that very same building for his first NHL game.

It was a historic night, to be sure.

On Oct. 12, 2016, Matthews, then 19, became the first player in the modern era of the NHL (starting in 1943-44) to score four goals in his debut. He became the third-youngest player in NHL history to score four goals, behind Bobby Carpenter (1981-82) and Jack Hamilton (1943-44), who each did it at 18.

Anderson was victimized for all four goals but is quick to point out that the Senators won the game in overtime. Indeed, in these parts, the final score will forever be known as: Senators 5, Matthews 4.

Realizing he had played a significant role in such a memorable chapter of NHL folklore, Anderson subsequently made a request from the talented rookie after the game.

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews bursts onto scene with four goals

Would Matthews please sign a stick for him?

Not long afterward, a stick arrived with the words 'Thanks FOUR making my first game memorable' written on it.

"It's probably going to be a National Hockey League record as long as I'm alive," Anderson said on Friday. "It's kind of a cool memento, something I can look at and giggle with my kids. 

"It's funny. My grandkids will be able to look up on the wall and see it one day. It was a pretty witty thing to write, especially for a young kid like that." 

Truth be told, Matthews admitted on Friday that the catchy message was not his idea, but rather the brainchild of Maple Leafs assistant equipment manager Bobby Hastings.

"Bobby ran it by me and I thought it was hilarious," Matthews said.

Since that memorable evening, Matthews has continued to be an offensive force, scoring 42 goals in 88 games. 

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews' parents take in Auston's big night

Such production comes as no surprise to Senators coach Guy Boucher.

In 2015-16, Boucher coached SC Bern of National League A, Switzerland's top professional league, and had a first-hand view of Matthews, then a center with Zurich.

"It took me about two shifts to realize this kid was a star in any league," Boucher said on Friday.

A year later, Matthews proved that point at the NHL level against Boucher's Senators.

"If he scored four in another barn against another team, I'd be impressed," Boucher said. "Last year we were peeved. 

"But that's just what those [elite] guys are. Failure doesn't affect them. Failure wants them to do more. They're not afraid to have the puck in pressure moments. They want the puck. 

"Erik Karlsson, for example, wants to be the guy. He's not afraid. If he makes the mistake in one game that costs us the game, he wants to be the guy the next time. That's their mental makeup."

Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews discusses record-setting debut

For Anderson, the most difficult aspect of facing Matthews is his shot. It's not just about velocity, timing also plays a role.

"The biggest thing with him is that you don't know where it's coming from," Anderson said. "He's very sneaky with the timing of it. He doesn't really have a tell-tale of when he's ready to release it.  

Some guys you're able to anticipate but he does a really good job of hiding it well."

There is no hiding from the history made by Matthews during his four-goal NHL debut a year ago. Nor is Anderson attempting to.

Instead, he'll likely take a look at the stick Matthews autographed for him 12 months ago before heading for the rink on Saturday. After all, if that doesn't prepare him to face Matthews again, nothing likely will.

"It's one of those games where everyone gets up for it," Anderson said. "High energy game. High energy building."

High energy players too.

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