Even now, five months after packing up his bags and sticks in Rochester, N.Y., Shawn Matthias
isn’t quite sure how to explain last season.
“It was a weird year, and it felt like something was off the whole season,” said the Panthers big center who’s trying to earn a spot on the Panthers roster this preseason. “I just wasn’t happy with my overall game.”
For Matthias, it’s been a wild ride since being acquired in February of 2007 from Detroit in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi. The expectations he carried in Detroit – as a certain NHL center – followed him to Florida. And those expectations only grew when, during an emergency call-up with the Panthers from juniors in 2007-08, he scored two goals in four games.
Fans were eagerly waiting for Matthias to crack the lineup last fall. He’d be the big centerman the franchise had hoped for. But it was Michael Frolik who made the team out of training camp, and it was Matthias who was sent to the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester. Both Matthias and the Amerks struggled mightily.
For Matthias, his biggest problem last season was his weight. After playing in 2007-08 at 205 pounds, the 6-2 Matthias spent last summer bulking up to 235 pounds. It didn’t help Matthias on the ice.
"I tried to bulk up and get bigger and, you know, it really didn’t work out for me,” he said. “In my exit meeting in Rochester (after last season) I was 235 pounds. I weighed in here (this year) at 205. That’s 30 pounds difference. I tried a different workout last summer. I got big and I got strong but, beside that, I don’t think I got faster.
“This summer I really just wanted to get back to the weight I used to play at, so I just worked my butt off and skated a lot and tried to do everything (the Panthers) said in my exit meetings. I realized speed is better than being overly strong. I think it’s paid off because I have my breath out there and last year I felt a little tired. This year I feel good and feel a step quicker than last summer.”
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer liked what he saw of Matthias last week at rookie camp.
“I told him at spring development camp to come in at a certain weight or under and he’s done that,” he said. “I think he looks leaner and he’s a lot faster out there.”
But Matthias not only had to deal with a weight issue, but the expectations placed upon him as well as trying to make the jump from junior hockey to professional hockey.
“Let’s be honest, he’s not the first guy who had a tough transition to pro or tough rookie year,” DeBoer added. “The expectations on him might have been a little inflated. He was in a tough situation in Rochester, being a go-to guy at 19 or 20.
“And, again, it’s a text book situation. A guy comes in as a 19-year-old, gets a couple goals in a few NHL games, and maybe shows up at camp (the next year) expecting to be on the roster. Thankfully, our organization had enough depth so we could do the right thing with him and put him back down (to the AHL). And I think he learned a lot about the pro game and what he needs to do to be successful.”
There’s no questions Matthias is the kind of player the Panthers want. “We need that big, lanky center iceman who can play at both ends of the rink,” said Jack Birch, the team’s director of player personnel.
Matthias believes the disappointment of last season can become a positive as he tries to make the team during training camp.
“I haven't done anything the easy way, so I guess it was only fitting to have a rough season and for people to count me out,” he said. “But I guess that’s the fun part; going in there and showing everyone they’re wrong and show up here and play hard. I take this very serious, and I know it’s only up to me. I’m the only person that’s going to help me make this team.” NOTES
The Panthers spent their first day on ice at training camp Sunday in Port Hawksbury, Nova Scotia. Coach Peter DeBoer said things went well after Saturday’s lost day.
“I thought they were great,” said DeBoer of the team. “It was a tough day (Saturday). They reported at 6:30 (a.m.,) for physicals, then flying across the country. I thought they worked real well this morning. They seemed excited to be here and anxious to get going. That enthusiasm is nice.”
DeBoer said his goal this season is “to be a team that can roll four lines.” He said players like Gregory Campbell and Kamil Kreps, who can each play center or wing, the Panthers have versatility up front.
The veterans will be split into two teams tomorrow for an intrasquad scrimmage while the rookies will play St. Francis Xavier University tomorrow night.