Auston Matthews can’t say why reality dating shows appeal to him, finds it “cool and humbling” to be in the same conversation with superstar Alex Ovechkin, and isn’t surprised that Sheldon Keefe doesn’t have a Netflix account. Read MoreLeafs’ Matthews misses game, but it’s ‘irrelevant when we’re talking about human lives’ — Toronto Sun
Auston Matthews can’t say why reality dating shows appeal to him, finds it “cool and humbling” to be in the same conversation with superstar Alex Ovechkin, and isn’t surprised that Sheldon Keefe doesn’t have a Netflix account.
Matthews, who was on track for a 50-goal season with the Maple Leafs when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the National Hockey League to go on pause on March 12, joined the media on a conference call on Thursday from his home in Arizona and touched on a variety of issues.
While the conversation was light-hearted at times, the 22-year-old Matthews didn’t waver from the fact that what he is paid millions of dollars to do — put the puck in the net and help lead the Leafs to wins — diminishes greatly in the wake of what’s happening on a global scale.
“Anybody would love to be playing hockey and be able to live a normal life, but this thing is bigger than sports, bigger than a lot of things,” Matthews said. “The most important thing is being safe and trying to stay as healthy as possible.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing to have this season go on pause, but when you think about being really close to scoring 50 goals, it all becomes irrelevant when we’re talking about human lives and what kinds of things are going on around the world.”
Matthews had 47 goals, one less than NHL leaders Ovechkin and David Pastrnak, when the NHL put a halt on the 2020-21 schedule. The Leafs were in third place in the Atlantic Division with 81 points, three up on the Florida Panthers, and had 12 games remaining.
Among the topics Matthews — who has Leafs teammate Frederik Andersen as a house guest during the pause — discussed with reporters on Thursday (some questions and answers have been edited for length):
♦ Keefe was saying recently he wants his players to come back as better versions of themselves. How do you address that and what facilities do you have at home for keeping in shape?
MATTHEWS: It’s tough to have all the resources you would have if we were all training in the summer. I’ve been watching some video, watching clips, trying to stay as active as possible while respecting social distancing. I’ve been shooting pucks and stick-handling. I have free weights and I have a sport court being built. I have rollerblades. I’m trying to do everything I can to stay in shape and try to not lose that focus.
♦ Assuming the NHL finishes the regular season, how much would it mean to you to (possibly) score more goals than Ovechkin?
MATTHEWS: It’s pretty cool and humbling to be in the same conversation as a guy like him. He has been a generational player and has made a big impact beyond the game and led the way for lots of players. Hopefully, we get back to playing hockey and can compete again. There is unfinished business considering we have 12 games left to play and there is close races for spots in the playoffs. But like I said, this is bigger than sport.
♦ If the season doesn’t resume, how will you wrap this season up if we go right to 2020-21?
MATTHEWS: That’s a scenario that we would all not like to see happen. If that’s the case, there were lots of ups and downs, lots of growth and room for growth. We had our fair share of adversity. That kind of stuff builds character and leadership and all that, but hopefully, hypothetically speaking, (going right into next season) doesn’t happen.
♦ Brendan Shanahan was saying recently that on the upside you guys responded from having your backs up against the wall quite regularly, including your last game where you beat the Lightning. On the downside, he was wondering why this team had a tendency to put its back against the wall so often. Thoughts on that?
MATTHEWS: I don’t really know how to answer that. For a big part of the season, starts for us were a bit of an issue … trying to have more of a killer mentality and a killer instinct to start games no matter who we’re playing, making sure we’re all ready. That should be taken upon the leaders to set that example. I think all of that showed a bit of an immature side of us, but I think that’s all stuff that can be fixed. It’s more of a mentality than anything.
♦ It’s looking like the NHL draft will have to be done either online or remotely or at a hotel if distancing rules get relaxed. As a No. 1 pick (in 2016), do you feel for guys like Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield who won’t get to hear their names called the way that you did?
MATTHEWS: Hearing your name called and going up there, getting your jersey, it’s all extremely surreal. It’s an experience that you dream of as a kid and if that’s not the case, it’s going to be tough. In the long run, they’re going to be great players in this league, and hopefully they’ll have more memories and experiences to cherish.
♦ Have you envisioned what it might be like playing in an empty rink, because there’s a high probability of that happening if we are to squeeze in the playoffs?
MATTHEWS: It would feel kind of weird. Fans are such a huge part of the game and not only inside the arena, but when we’ve got the playoffs going on and we’ve got Maple Leaf Square and everybody out there, the atmosphere shifts to another level. It would definitely be pretty strange to be playing in an empty arena with no crowds and no noise or atmosphere.
♦ Keefe said he is binging on the Leafs and that he doesn’t have a Netflix account. Does it surprise you that he hasn’t shut his brain off? And what — other than an apparently relentless work ethic — stood out to you about his first few months on the job?
MATTHEWS: No, that’s not really too surprising. Since he has taken over, his work ethic and his commitment to the players and the team — not just on a hockey level but on a personal level — has been amazing. I think he has been great. Everybody has been really receptive to him and I think he has been extremely receptive to us. That’s all you can really ask for. The fact that he has continued to watch film and find different ways for the team to be better, areas of weaknesses and strengths, that’s just a commitment to be the best coach he can be.
♦ Has your mind wandered to idea that the end of the pause might not happen in (or before) September and we’re looking at a lot longer than the next several months?
MATTHEWS: You never know what the case is or what’s going to happen. It’s just important that everybody is really practising social distancing and staying healthy. When the time comes, we can get back on the ice again and health officials and everybody declares it’s a go. There are a lot of hypotheticals, so it’s tough to really pinpoint what the situation is going to be.
♦ On a lighter note, it has been noted that you are a great devotee to various dating shows on TV — Love is Blind, Love Island. Have you been able to turn Freddie on to those and what is the appeal of watching these shows?
MATTHEWS: The first one I watched was Love is Blind. It was just on Netflix and it was just right there so I clicked it and started watching it. I just binge-watched it. I don’t really know what the appeal is. Freddie will only watch a couple of episodes (of Love Island) before he leaves the room and goes somewhere else. It’s pretty awful but I’m in deep now so I can’t really turn back.
♦ I’m wondering if you caught any of the old NHL games that have been broadcast (during the pause), and what you thought about the goaltending equipment of the 1970s and 1980s, and the hooking and holding of the 1990s?
MATTHEWS: With all of the speed and skill and the talent, the young talent that’s in the league now, I feel like this is the most exciting hockey that has been played, but it’s pretty cool to watch old games. I’m a big equipment guy so to see the guys using their wooden sticks and the goaltending gear … Even the way they goaltended back then compared to now, it’s pretty cool to see how far it’s all come together. Where the game is at, it’s extremely exciting to be a part of and playing right now.
♦ You said you’ve been working on your shot. Is Freddie in net for those practice sessions and is there a bit of a competitive rivalry going on?
MATTHEWS: No, he’s not going in the net. I wouldn’t do that to him. He’s not a street hockey goalie. He likes to play out.