Special to floridapanthers.com
It’s been a wild turn of events for Shawn Matthias
in the last few days. Just Wednesday, Matthias was relaxing in Belleville, Ontario as the leading scorer for the Belleville Bulls. Due to numerous injuries to Florida Panthers forwards, Thursday’s call from General Manager and Head Coach Jacques Martin was both a shock and the fulfillment of a dream. Matthias was an NHL player. He made his professional debut in New Jersey last night – everything happened so quick his parents were unable to catch a flight out of Ontario to make it to the game.Photogallery: Matthias' NHL Debut
Sure, the 19 year old had worn the Panthers sweater before – but only in training camp and preseason games. For Matthias it was a dream come true to step onto the ice in the Prudential Center. It didn’t come without nerves, after all, Matthias played in front of 15,203 – more than five times the three thousand he was used to playing before.
“Yeah sure, I was a little shaky in the first period – I’m sure everyone is in their first NHL game. But it was great to be out there and its nice to get that one out of the way,” Matthias said who saw 11:24 of ice time and finished with three missed shots, a two-minute hooking penalty in the first period, a blocked shot and an 80% face-off win percentage (4-of-5).
He was greeted well by his Panthers teammates – many of who called him a “stud” as he met with the media. Martin showed a lot of confidence in Matthias – he was out on the ice with just two minutes left to play in the hockey game. After the game, Martin echoed – though not in the same words – the praise that Matthias’ teammates had for his first pro performance.
“Well he sure didn’t look out of place, I thought he gave us a strong game. I was able to put him with Olli [Jokinen] and Horton in the third period and they were a much better line,” Martin said after the 2-1 come from behind victory. “He is a kid that did a good job in both ends of the ice,” he continued.
Often times building up to the professional style of the game through baby steps is a good way to avoid turnovers or defensive miscommunication. For certain, sound defense at the NHL level goes a long way for a player trying to make a name for himself. Matthias, known for his scoring touch, tried to earn his keep by focusing on his play in the defensive zone first.
“I didn’t want to get scored on in my first game,” Matthias laughed. “I wanted to help the team win by not allowing a goal. Being a young guy, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get scored on before worrying about scoring a goal,” he commented.
Matthias recognized a difference in play in his first game at the highest level – even from the preseason.
“When coach told me I was playing with [Jokinen and Horton] – I turned my head in shock. I’m playing with world class players and I did a little bit of a double take,” Matthias said. “It was awesome. But it was a lot harder. The preseason was a lot of fun and it taught me a lot but this game was a little bit more competitive and I just tried to learn as much as I could tonight,” he continued.
The second round pick of the Red Wings in 2006, who came to Florida through the Todd Bertuzzi trade, nearly beat future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur in the second period for his first tally as a Panther. Matthias walked around the net and looked as if he was going to pass, instead he turned around and shot – almost fooling the sliding Devils goaltender.
Both Matthias and Martin recognize that there is a long way to go for this “work in progress” but prized prospect.
“Being a young guy and getting this opportunity, and having the coaches show a lot of confidence in me [in the 3rd period] will definitely help me along the way,” Matthias said. “I want to be an NHLer when I’m older, I want to stay in this league,” he said.
“He is a real good player, and I think Shawn has a bright future in this organization,” Martin said after the game.
If Matthias continues to work hard and develop both on and off the ice, he will have many more games to come in the not so distant future in South Florida.