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Hometown Tour: Vancouver Island A Special Place for Matt Irwin

Visit the Preds Defenseman in Victoria, British Columbia, at the Places He Grew Up

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Hometown Tour: Matt Irwin

Matt Irwin gives a tour of his hometown

Preds defenseman Matt Irwin gives a tour of his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island

  • 12:38 •

You'll want to call a cab around 6:30 in the morning, just to be safe.

It's about a 40-minute ride from downtown Vancouver to the Tsawwassen B.C. Ferries Terminal, but in order to ensure a timely arrival for your 8 a.m. departure, it's best to allow for unexpected slowdowns on the crowded thoroughfares of British Columbia.

You'll head south on Granville Street out of the city, where residents of the Granville, Oak Ridge and Marpole neighborhoods are just starting their day. You'll pass through Richmond and over the Fraser River and then bear right onto Highway 17, a straight shot right into the Tsawwassen Terminal, just a couple thousand feet from the international boundary between Canada and the United States.

Purchase a ticket for Swartz Bay - a 90-minute journey that will cover 24 nautical miles - and walk on board a vessel equipped with restaurants, shops and even an arcade, although the only thing you'll want to see is right outside the windows.

A blast of the air horn and you'll be off across the Strait of Georgia, crossing channels and passages flanked by evergreen-covered landmasses on all sides. The ferry squeezes through Galiano Island and Mayne Island, navigating the blue waters with ease. It might be chilly, and hold onto your hat if you're sporting one, but you'll want to head to the top deck for some of the more breathtaking sights you've ever witnessed.

You'll snap photos left and right, thinking there's no way the view will get better than this. But then you turn the corner. And another. And another.

A little over an hour into the journey, you'll be able to spot your destination in the distance, and right on cue, the clouds give way to the sun shining down on one of the southernmost points of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

And then you see your welcoming party.

It's easy to understand why Matt Irwin comes back home to Vancouver Island during the summer months. The wilderness, the water, the climate and culture - it's unlike anywhere most of us have ever been.

The NHL season is a grind - eight months of practices and games that provide ample wear and tear on the body and mind. It's necessary to recharge and refocus during this time, and there's perhaps no better place to do so than in the house in North Saanich that Irwin constructed a few years back.

It serves as the summer home for now, and eventually the forever home, for him, his wife Chantel, their one-and-a-half-year-old son Beckem, Tucker the Weimaraner, and whoever else may eventually become part of the family. It's a beautiful structure nestled into the hills of the island near Swartz Bay, the perfect place to get away from it all.

In the living room area sits a must-have for all hockey players past and present - a miniature net and a few mini sticks to go alongside, perfect for any youngster, or adult wishing to relive their childhood.

After receiving a few passes from dad, Beckem turns his attention to the foyer where his father has brought out a few mementos from his career, which has now spanned seven seasons with three organizations. It began in 2012-13 in San Jose, when Irwin made his debut with the Sharks. He spent three seasons in the Bay Area before moving onto the Bruins organization for one year prior to arriving in Nashville in the fall of 2016. After failing to make the Opening Night roster three years ago, it wasn't long before the Predators recalled Irwin from AHL Milwaukee, and he's stuck with the club ever since.

He shows Beckem a Sharks jersey, and while he may be a bit shy with visitors on this occasion, the parents say the sweater will often lead to a rendition of the popular children's tune "Baby Shark."

There seems to be a bit more recognition when the Gold Predators attire from the 2017 Stanley Cup Final makes an appearance, the logo that represents the NHL city in which Beckem was born back in January of 2018.

He'll one day come to appreciate the region where his father grew up as well, a place Irwin is more than willing to show off on a pleasant Thursday afternoon in late June, not an ounce of humidity present.

We ride down the two-lane West Saanich Road into the town of Brentwood, a much different commute than what Tennesseans make into the Nashville suburb of the same name. The pace is much slower, and it's worth a look to the right to take in the beauty of the Saanich Inlet separating one part of the island from the next.

There's a running joke between Irwin and some of his Predators teammates - namely Swiss Captain Roman Josi - that with his offseason residence on an island, running water must not be present. Not only does it come straight out of the faucet, but there are roads, cars, grocery stores and the like, Irwin says, wryly.

There's a sense of familiarity as Irwin turns down a street he traversed every day as a child as we seek out the home he grew up in. His parents sold it years ago and moved to another part of the island, but as we pull into the driveway, the memories rush back as the defenseman spots the shed that used to absorb countless numbers of slapshots.

As any polite Canadian would, Irwin knocks on the door and introduces himself to the current homeowner, making sure we have permission to take a look around the outside for a few moments. Once the request is approved, Irwin notices a few faint puck marks still visible on the shed his father had repaired - likely multiple times - all those years ago.

On the side of the house, the now 31-year-old Irwin finds his handprints in the concrete - along with siblings and family friends - that were made just one day shy of exactly 30 years ago to the day we were there. The bamboo is still planted in the yard where his mom ran a daycare, and he can't help but look up at the chimney and remember how he and his friend used to jump off to a waiting trampoline below.

"Great activity," Irwin jokes.

As we depart, we pass Lucille Drive, which hosted plenty of street hockey games over the years and where one team always had a slight advantage thanks to the small slope, as Irwin recalls. We pass his elementary school as we head south for Victoria, the capital city of the island. It's a charming town - a mix of commerce and culture with colorful flowers and historic structures around every turn.

Irwin admits his father is much better at navigating the city streets, but he does a fine job of directing us down to Victoria Harbour, a local gathering spot dotted with eateries right on the water. A lunch of fish and chips seems to be the logical choice, fresh B.C. halibut as the catch of the day. There's a bit of Nashville nostalgia as a gentleman strums away on his six string, while locals and tourists alike stroll by, the Irwin family enjoying their midday meal.

Once we're nourished and Beckem has had his fill of searching for "Dory" in the water below, we ride along Dallas Road, which hugs the coastline through Beacon Hill Park and off to Clover Point Park. It's a clear day, and Irwin points out the view across the water to Washington State and the snow-covered mountains of Olympic National Park.

We turn north back up Patricia Bay Highway and to the Panorama Recreation Centre, the facility that housed Irwin's first moments on the ice as a child.

"This might come as a bit of a shock, but I was an offensive juggernaut," Irwin laughs as he remembers his days skating with the Peninsula Eagles Minor Hockey Association.

Once inside the building, it doesn't take long to find evidence of Irwin's time spent here with two autographed photos from his rookie season with San Jose in a display case for all to see. The Benn brothers - Jamie, the captain of the Dallas Stars, and Jordie, a defenseman now with the Canucks - also grew up in these parts and used to share this ice, too, and the locals are proud of their boys who made it all the way.

Early mornings and late nights, Irwin spent a slew of them at this place, perfecting his hockey skills before dawn and then working up the courage to ask a girl to hold hands at the couples' skate after dark.

Nowadays, it's still almost unfathomable - and yet so darn humbling - to think that of all the kids from Vancouver Island who grow up with the same dream, he is one of the lucky few who now gets to skate under the bright lights of the NHL.

There's just something about standing in an empty rink, reflecting on the past and envisioning the future, and Irwin can't help but ponder the next generation as he holds Beckem in his arms. He doesn't yet know if it will happen at Ford Ice Center or in this very building where his dream began, but it won't be long before Irwin laces up the skates for his son. Beckem may not spend as much time here as his father once did, but the chances are high he'll become just as familiar with these surroundings.

It's already in the bloodlines, but perhaps there will be another member of the Irwin family enshrined soon enough.

For now, however, it's back to the car, and a long-awaited rendition of "Baby Shark" from the young one before pulling into the town of Sidney for one last look across the water. Appropriately enough, there's a Swiss restaurant on Beacon Avenue, a sight that causes Irwin to ponder aloud if Josi might like to invest in an establishment on the illustrious island.

Tucker greets us as we make one final stop back at the house, and seemingly just as soon as the day had begun more than four hours earlier, it's time to head back to the mainland and leave the blueliner behind on his own little slice of paradise.

We board the ferry once more and pull away from the pier, the blast of the airhorn lingering in the atmosphere.

Video: Matt Irwin gives a tour of his hometown

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