"I'm working on him to get down to about 150 PIMs, and that should translate to 30 goals." -- Fresno Falcons coach Matt Thomas on Matt Stefanishion
One year ago, Matt Stefanishion
was getting ready for a breakout season with the Reading Royals.
Fifteen games into the season, things just weren't clicking for the power forward, as he notched just 1 goal and 1 assist. He needed a change of scenery -- one that would provide him an opportunity to really showcase his abilities.
On Nov. 28, 2007, Stefanishion received that fresh start. In a three-team deal that also involved the Columbia Inferno, Stefanishion became a member of the Fresno Falcons.
Under coach Matt Thomas, Stefanishion was given every chance to succeed, and the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder excelled. In 54 games, the Daysland, Alberta, native had 19 goals, 18 assists and a whopping 243 penalty minutes. His play in Fresno earned him an invitation to the Anaheim Ducks
' training camp. While a numbers game forced him to return to Fresno, a quick start could quickly land him in the American Hockey League.
Imagine the type of numbers Stefanishion would have put up if not for the bad fit in Reading.
"With the start of the year that I had in Reading, it was unfortunate," Stefanishion told NHL.com. "I had to try and find just a way to get back into hockey and enjoying things. Coming out to Fresno and getting a chance to play and proving that I could be a big factor really got me back into it. I'm excited about this year."
Stefanishion was a perfect fit in Fresno, given his past history with fellow Falcons forward Jarrett Konkle
. The two were linemates with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2006-07, when Stefanishion had 40 points and 90 penalty minutes in 56 games. After getting positive feedback from Konkle, Thomas quickly pulled the trigger on a deal to bring Stefanishion out West.
"He said I'd really like him," Thomas said. "(South Carolina coach) Jared Bednar
had some really good things to say about him. It was one of those situations where he needed to find a spot where he was comfortable. He needed that new start. It wasn't happening for him in Reading. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I didn't think we were physical enough, and he came in and instantly gave us a huge power forward. The 'D' are afraid to go get the puck when he's out there."
Stefanishion is excited about Fresno's chances in 2008-09, as the Falcons' season in set to begin on Saturday night at Stockton. With the Chicago Blackhawks
now on board, the Falcons should be young, exciting and, as always, competitive.
"It looks like we've got a good mix of guys in here," Stefanishion said. "I just got in a couple of days ago, coming down from Iowa's camp. We've got a couple of guys coming back from last year, and we've got a couple of players from college that look like they can bring a lot to the table. Things are looking good."
Do they look as good as the season Stefanishion enjoyed upon his arrival in Fresno? Time will tell. After all, not every team boasts a forward who can both score and stand up for his teammates. In the end, it's quite remarkable that Stefanishion was able to score 19 goals considering the amount of time he spent in the penalty box.
"I might be the most hated player in the division," Stefanishion joked. "But also with those penalty minutes, I drew some penalty minutes and got on the power play. I try to get my big body in front of the net and use my size and my shot."
Thomas raved about Stefanishion's tremendous scoring touch. The Falcons' coach has a plan entering the new season that he hopes will lead to less time in the box and more ink on the score sheet.
"I'm working on him to get down to about 150 PIMs, and that should translate to 30 goals, in my mind," Thomas said. "He plays the type of game on the edge that he baits guys into penalties. He's out there stirring it up. He's a very talented player. He could play that role at the next level and beyond, for sure."
Given the positive feedback he received from Ducks' brass at the conclusion of their camp, it might only be a matter of time before Stefanishion is playing in the American Hockey League. He appeared in 3 games for Hershey in 2006-07, but his next AHL stint might be a bit lengthier.
"They basically said I proved that I could play at that level," Stefanishion said of Anaheim, which is now affiliated with Iowa. "It was just a numbers game with the salary cap issue and whatnot. It's a lot tougher to have as many guys on the roster. Had it been four or five years ago, they'd just sign you to an American League deal. But with the financial aspect of the game, they can't really do that anymore."
Instead, Stefanishion is forced to begin the season in the ECHL. But history has dictated that players with size and hands usually don't have to wait long for promotions. Not only is it conceivable that Stefanishion could soon find himself playing in the AHL, but Thomas believes it may not be the last step the power forward takes in his career.
"If there's one guy that I've had in my career that has got the ability to play in the National Hockey League, it's Matt Stefanishion
," Thomas said. "He's a big guy, he skates well enough, he's got very good hands for a big guy and he hits harder than anybody I've ever had. He runs three, four guys over a game. Major hits. He's a very physical player."