Special to floridapanthers.com
After spending three weeks in a foreign country, staying in three different hotels, and trying to adapt to different food and a different lifestyle, Panthers prospect Matt Rust is back in the United States. Rust has only been home for three days, but he is already chomping at the bit to get back in action for the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Despite losing some hockey luggage on the trip back into the US, Rust will be in the lineup tonight when Michigan faces off against his former team, the United States U18 Development Team. Michigan didn’t expect him or his other three teammates that participated in the World Junior Championships to be ready to play this early – but that’s Rust for you. His motor is always running.
Rust was a member of the United States WJC team that finished in fourth place after winning Group B of the preliminary round. Even though Rust wasn’t able to register a point or nab a medal, he still learned a great deal about himself as a person and a player in the Czech Republic.
“The competition was a lot tougher than back home [in the NCAA]. The game speed is much faster – you know, its interesting playing at an age level up. At the international level, I’ve been used to playing at the U18 level – its tough jumping up to U20,” Rust said.
Rust and his Team USA squad still had plenty of highlights during the 10 day tournament. The United States went 4-0-0 through preliminary play, including a big 3-2 victory over Russia that helped propel them to the tournament Semi-Finals.
“It was pretty awesome beating Russia for first time. We really dictated the pace that game. After losing to them last year in the U18 World Tournament, it left a nasty taste in my mouth to see their flag flying after they won.” Rust commented. “It was nice to get them back and see the American flag hanging after the game,” he continued.
A self described strong skater, Rust has adjusted well to playing with older players. In fact, Rust is eligible to participate in next year’s tournament – like many of the players on the USA team. In his first handful of games at Michigan, Rust has adapted quickly to the fast paced college game. Through 17 games, Rust has put up 12 points – good for fifth in team scoring. Still, Rust sees room for improvement in his game.
“You can always improve and get better. I’ve always tried to pride myself on being a strong skater, but you really need to be a good skater – that’s one thing I noticed over [in the Czech Republic]. Every guy can fly over there,” Rust said.
|Rust was the Panthers 4th-round selection (101st overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images) |
Rust is looking forward to getting to play with even older players in the near future. The Panthers 4th round pick did not attend any of the Panthers prospect or rookie camps this past summer, but he is looking forward to working out in Florida after his freshman campaign in Ann Arbor.
“I hadn’t had much communication before, but recently I’ve been sending e-mails back and forth with Mr. [Duane] Sutter (Panthers Director of Player Development) and I’m looking forward to coming down to Florida in the offseason,” Rust said. “I want to come down, meet some of the guys, and see what they’re all about,” he continued.
Matt Rust knows that a lot has to happen in order for him to get to someday get to the National Hockey League. He knows that he needs to get stronger and continue to put up points as a Wolverine. Instead of savoring his time in a USA jersey, Rust is already back in Michigan ready for his next test.
“It’s hard to explain, you definitely take it for granted [wearing the USA jersey]. It’s cliché, but it is such an honor to put on the USA jersey every day,” Rust said. “But we’ve got work to do here.”
It is that kind of work ethic that will one day, hopefully soon, have Rust putting on the Florida Panthers sweater with pride day in and day out.