All it took Shawn Matthias
was a taste.
Four games to be exact.
But those four games in January in a Panther uniform were all Matthias needed to realize where he wants to begin the 2008-09 season. And the 6-4 center – who became a fan favorite during his four-game, NHL stint last season – is willing to do anything these next few weeks to make his mark.
“I’m hungry for it,” said Matthias as he prepared for the Panthers six-game road trip through Canada this week. “I’ll do whatever it takes. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing 10 minutes a night and blocking shots the whole time. I just want to be part of things this year and in the future as well.”
Matthias appears to possess the skills to be an impact player in the NHL. Drafted in the second round by Detroit in 2006 and acquired by the Panthers in 2007 in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi, Matthias has shown throughout his career a deft scoring touch, character, and the nerve to drive to the net.
In 53 games last season in the Ontario Hockey League, he registered 79 points (32 goals), was a plus-21, and helped lead Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. In his only four games with the Panthers last season as an emergency call up, he scored two goals against the Capitals and showed the willingness to battle in the corners and in front of the net.
GM Jacques Martin referred to Matthias while coaching him last season as a “smart player” who knew his responsibilities offensively and defensively. And coach Peter DeBoer has recognized Matthias as one of several players who could make the team out of training camp.
When asked about Matthias at the start of training camp, Stephen Weiss
said, “The sky is the limit.”
“He’s a really good player,” he added. “He’s big, strong, smart…and he’s hungry. He wants to play. He can be real dangerous.”
Matthias spent the off-season doing everything he could to prepare for training camp. He attended the Panthers’ conditioning camp in Ontario and then spent time in Toronto working out with Weiss and other NHL players under the direction of Panthers’ strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien.
“It paid off,” Matthias said. “It was a real good workout and I feel I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Before camp started, he made his way to South Florida and skated with the Panthers during informal workouts at IncredibleIce in Coral Springs.
“I tried to do as much preparation and tried to get accustomed to things as much as I could, like meeting the guys, so when September came around it would be a little easier for me,” he said. “Last year was awesome (with the Panthers). I got to meet most of the guys and they were great to me. They remembered me when I got here this year and we’re joking around with me. It’s not like last year when I came to camp and you’re kind of afraid to talk to the older guys and don’t want to step on their toes.
“But I remember the feeling of being on the ice and knowing what it’s like, and I’m ready to work hard and compete. I’m a year older and I think I’m ahead of where I was last year at this time.”
Matthias realizes the expectations for him this year are greater than last season. He’s also become one of several Panther prospects who fans are looking forward to seeing on the ice. But Matthias, reserved and humble, is staying focused on winning a roster spot.
“I don’t think about the other stuff,” he says. “Obviously, hearing (about expectations) gets the blood flowing a little. You learn to like that stuff. I played in the World Juniors and I remember what people said about our team and how we weren’t going to win a gold medal and all that. You want to prove people wrong, but you also want to prove people right who are expecting things from you.
“I don’t want to let people down. I want to come to the team and be a hard-working guy, maybe not the guy who gets the most points but one they can expect a lot of hard work and for me to play a chippy, gritty style that will help this team win.”
The kind of game Panther fans look forward to.