International Ice Hockey Federation

Going his way

Going his way

Auston Matthews prepares for NHL in Switzerland

Published 21.12.2015 20:13 GMT+2 | Author Martin Merk
Going his way
Auston Matthews won two gold medals and MVP honours at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Auston Matthews is expected to play in his second World Junior Championship, closing out what has been a special season for the 18-year-old.

With top American players usually being drafted from college teams or Canadian junior teams and most of the top Europeans coming from pro teams on the home continent, earlier this year Matthews decided to go the European route before he will likely be picked No. 1 overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He is the first top prospect from North America to go this way before starting his NHL career.

Because he missed out of joining the draft class of 2015 by just by a few days being born on 17 September 1997, Matthews signed a one-year contract with the ZSC Lions Zurich where he was able to play his first game as a professional player following his 18th birthday.

Since then the unusual move has turned out rather well for everybody. In 22 games of the Swiss National League A Matthews has scored 14 goals and notched 25 points for the top-ranked Lions.

We talked with the centre from Scottsdale, Arizona, before the start of the World Juniors. Note: This interview was published in the newest edition of our newsletter Ice Times.

You came a long way to Switzerland to play in the NLA before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. How do you feel in the league?

It feels good. It’s a very good league and I’m having a lot of fun playing with this team. It’s a great organization and it’s been a really good time so far.

In North America it was discussed a lot whether playing junior or college hockey in North America or in a pro league in Europe is the best solution for you this season. From what we see you probably have never regretted the step to Switzerland.

Absolutely not. I believe in it 100 per cent. I think it’s been really good for me and it’s a really great challenge. It was basically Zurich or major junior for me and I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity. I thought it’d be a good place for me and I think so far it has worked out pretty well.

What are the biggest differences for you coming from U.S. U18 national team and playing in junior leagues?

Well, it’s professional hockey. Guys are obviously older and more mature players. It’s hard to play against these guys. They have great experience. It’s definitely tougher to play.

What were the biggest challenges for you in the Swiss league?

Everybody is really fast and skilled and a lot of players have NHL experience and they are tough to play against. I think it’s good for me to get that challenge and to prepare myself for hopefully the next level.

How important was it to have a former NHL coach in Zurich with Marc Crawford?

It is very important. He taught me a lot. He has coached very good players and I think I’m learning a lot from him.

You started to play in Arizona where hockey is not the most common sport. What made you want to play hockey?

I was just watching Coyotes game when I was younger and that’s kind of how I got interested in hockey and started playing.

Who were your childhood idols?

I like Shane Doan. He’s been there ever since the team moved down. I liked to watch Daniel Briere when he used to play there.

What do you miss most in Switzerland?

Not too much, a couple of different food spots back in Arizona but there’s a lot of really good places here I enjoyed going too so I haven’t missed too much. This is home for a year and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I like the kebabs and stuff like that, it’s really good. I also tried cheese fondue.

You once said you missed Mexican food, now you have your mother with you in Zurich.

Yes, she cooks it at times so that’s good.

Your next challenge will be the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

It’s obviously a great tournament. It’s a big broadcast. Everybody looks forward to it. I’m looking forward to the camp in Boston and hopefully I’ll have a chance to play for the team.

What is your prediction for Team USA?

Every year we have to expect the best and expect going to win the tournament. If you sell your team any shorter than that it’s not going to happen. I think you have to go in and believe you’re the best team and play like that.

Many expect you to be drafter as number one. Which team would you like? Probably the Coyotes?


How was it for you to win gold medals at the U18 Worlds?

It was a great experience. To represent Team USA is always a big honour and to go and play against other countries and be fortunate enough to win a couple of gold medals is pretty special.

You played in Ann Arbor for the centralized U18 team of the National Team Development Program. Was it an important step in your career?

Absolutely. It’s a great program. It really taught me a lot and helped me develop as a player and as a person.

The ZSC Lions Zurich had a good season. Just one team, Geneva-Servette, made your life difficult. Why so?

I don’t know, we’ve had trouble against them all three games and haven’t won one. We just need to forget about those games and adjust and prepare for the next one.

How will your season end in spring?

If you don’t expect to win a championship you may as well not even play. We expect to continue to play well and just get better and this organization is known for winning and that’s what is expected of us.


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