Inspired by dad: New Jersey Devils former first round pick Stefan Matteau is searching for a path back to the NHL

For players who are selected in the first round of the National Hockey League’s annual entry draft, the likelihood of their careers spanning at least 100 games is high. But for Chicago Wolves forward Stefan Matteau, who was an opening round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2012, the clock is ticking.

The 25-year old Matteau, who is the son of beloved New York Rangers legend Stéphane Matteau, currently sits at just 64 games played in the NHL after the Devils and the Montreal Canadiens gave up on him prior to his arrival with the Vegas Golden Knights organization.

Matteau was less than four months old when his father scored perhaps the biggest goal in Rangers history in 1994, a double overtime thriller in game seven of the eastern conference finals at Madison Square Garden against New Jersey. The Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup later that spring, their first championship in 54 years.

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Stéphane Matteau (center) celebrates his memorable series clinching goal in double overtime in game seven of the 1994 eastern conference final, against the New Jersey Devils at MSG. This photo belongs to USA Today.

Little did the elder Matteau know at the time, but less than 20 years later, his toddler would break into the NHL wearing a Devils uniform.

Although Matteau only played in 44 games with the Devils, and his time in the organization only lasted for parts of four seasons, the Wolves second year centreman does not view his time spent playing there as a wasted opportunity.

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Stefan Matteau was drafted in the first round (29th overall) by the New Jersey Devils in 2012. This photo is courtesy of NHL.com

With the Devils, Matteau was reunited with longtime offseason training partner Dainius Zubrus, who played nearly 1,300 games before retiring from the NHL in 2016. Indeed, Zubrus’ longevity is only supported by the fact that he and Matteau were teammates, fifteen years after being an adversary to his father.

“My first year in the league, and even five or six years before that, I was working out with Dainus Zubrus,” said Matteau. “I got drafted by New Jersey, and then he took me in. Him and his family took me into their home, I got to live with them, which was pretty sweet. He’s definitely been a role model for me,” he added.

After falling out of favor in New Jersey, Matteau was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in 2016, the team he grew up idolizing. And while he only got to suit up for 12 games with the Habs, he said it was nevertheless a dream come true.

“For the rest of my life I’ll be able to say that I played for the Montreal Canadiens, and I’m pretty proud of that,” Matteau said.

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Stefan Matteau during his stint with the Montreal Canadiens. This image is courtesy of http://www.sportsnet.ca

When the Canadiens opted not to retain Matteau’s services following a year spent with their American Hockey League affiliate, he signed a two-way contract in July of 2017 with the Vegas Golden Knights.

During their inaugural season in 2017-18, Matteau only managed to play in eight games with the Golden Knights and has instead been relegated to the AHL. Like all of his Wolves teammates, his goal is to play in the NHL, but it appears that he won’t be receiving a promotion any time in the near future.

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Vegas Golden Knights forward Stefan Matteau battling for positioning during an exhibition game against the Anaheim Ducks in 2017. This photo belongs to NHL.com

This season, he is on pace for his worst season statistically, since entering the professional ranks in 2012-13. Through 48 games with the Wolves, Matteau has only managed to find the back of the net on three occasions and has only registered eight helpers.

His minus-7 differential is second worst on the team, and that is an area where defensive minded forwards are usually expected to shine. But the plus-minus stat isn’t the only metric by which a player’s defensive awareness is quantified, and according to Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson, it doesn’t tell the entire story in regards to the type of season his forward is having.

“He’s a big part of our penalty kill,” coach Thompson said. “At one point this year halfway through the season, we had the worst penalty kill in the league, but now we’re climbing the ranks with the penalty kill, [which is] a monumental step for our hockey team and Stef is a big part of that,” added his coach.

Despite his lack of offensive production this season, Thompson believes that Matteau can still develop that part of his game.

“I think offense is still there for him, and it’s not something he can give up on. I certainly haven’t given up on that, and I think he’s just right there ready to turn the corner with it again,” he said.

Likewise, Wolves forward Reid Duke acknowledged that Matteau’s game exhibits several key attributes, including an ability to play in all situations.

“A player like that can kind of play anywhere. He’s so versatile, and he’s got a lot of attributes in his toolbox which is probably great for a coach to have,” Duke expressed. He can play up and down your lineup, on your power play or your penalty kill,” said Duke.

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CLEVELAND, OH – JANUARY 26: Chicago Wolves center Stefan Matteau (23) shoots the puck during the first period of the American Hockey League game between the Chicago Wolves and Cleveland Monsters on January 26, 2019, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And according to forward Brooks Macek, Matteau’s work ethic and physical brand of hockey are trademarks of No. 23’s game.

Normally, votes of confidence from your head coach and teammates are nothing to sneeze at for any professional athlete, but Matteau’s reduced role with the Wolves this season has felt more like a fall from grace. The former highly touted prospect had higher expectations for himself at the start of the campaign, ones which he doesn’t believe he’s met.

“It’s really fun to be a part of this team, don’t get me wrong, but just a bit tough for me personally,” said Matteau, who speaks to his father about his play on a regular basis.

“If I’m struggling, he calls me and he says ‘Stef, I’ve been through this a thousand times, I know what’s going on, I know how you’re feeling.’ So, it’s nice to be able to relate that way, and give me tips, and just take it one day at a time,” he said.

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This image belongs to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League

Matteau remembers being inside NHL locker rooms before making it there as a player, and that’s because his father used to let him hang out in there during the latter portion of his career. So, when his father offers hockey advice, Matteau listens.

These days however, his father speaks to high school students in New York City about the importance of mental health, and the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction. After recently opening up to the New York Times about his own struggles, Matteau’s father has decided to use his platform to help others as well, which is something that is an inspiration to his son.

“He’s just a good person, he’s pretty easy to talk to, pretty easy to get along with, so any advice that he has is definitely worth listening to,” Matteau said of his father.

If his father’s on-ice and off-ice perseverance is any indication, Stefan Matteau might just have it in him to overcome the adversity he is facing. And that is precisely what he needs to do if he’s going to find a path back to the NHL.

Wolves forward Reid Duke is no longer a junior player in the Western Hockey League, that much is certain

Reid Duke no longer plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings or the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, and it’s pretty obvious that the 23-year old will need to regain his confidence if he’s going to be a difference maker at the professional level.

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Reid Duke scoring a goal during his final year of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. This image belongs to http://www.brandonwheatkings.com

Since becoming the first player to sign a contract in Vegas Golden Knights history, Duke’s young career has taken a bit of a bumpy road. After sustaining a separated shoulder during training camp in 2017, he missed all but 14 games with the Chicago Wolves last season.

“There’ve been a couple ups and downs, but it’s nice to finally be playing. It was a long break off of hockey last year, so I’m very happy with just playing. You kind of take that for granted sometimes,” said the Calgary, Alberta native.

In 44 games this season in the American Hockey League, Duke has only managed to register seven goals and nine assists, along with 33 penalty minutes; a far cry from the 37 goals and 71 points he contributed when he starred during his final year of junior hockey.

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Reid Duke prepares to take a face-off with the Chicago Wolves. This photo is courtesy of Getty Images. 

But Duke is aware he’s yet to live up to the lofty expectations that the Golden Knights had for him coming out of junior. He knows this season hasn’t gone exactly as planned from a personal standpoint, even though the Wolves sit atop the AHL’s central division with 73 points.

“[I just need to] use my speed. You look at the team that Vegas has, and they play so fast. Every one of their guys knows how to play with pace, and keeping things a little bit simpler,” said Duke.

While it’s not uncommon for a first year pro to take a step back in their development before taking two steps forward, Duke still has a ways to go if he wants to get to the next level. When he was drafted in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft by the Minnesota Wild back in 2014, many scouts saw him as a good two-way center who could play a strong 200-foot game.

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Reid Duke on draft day in 2014. This image belongs to NHL.com

“When you get to that next level, there’s not too much time and space, so you gotta take advantage of your opportunities and you want to help out in any way you can, whether that scoring or blocking shots on the penalty kill. They’ve been in contact with me lots, and they’ve been very supportive. It’s a really good organization to be a part of,” said Duke.

For Duke to make more of an impact, he will need to trust his instincts a lot more in the latter portion of the Wolves season, and next year. He exhibits a great shot, and overwhelming speed. If he can simplify his game, and not worry too much about meeting expectations, his ability to produce at the pro level may finally take shape.

After playing in Europe for the past five seasons, Brooks Macek returned to North America hungry like a wolf

When Brooks Macek didn’t receive a single contract offer from a North American team following a junior hockey career that was split between the Tri-City Americans and the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, he opted to embrace an opportunity that the Iserlohn Roosters of the Deutsche Eishockey League (DEL) presented to him.

At the time, Macek was only 21-years-old and he and his girlfriend viewed the opportunity to play in Germany as an chance for them to travel and experience a new lifestyle together overseas. But his decision wasn’t only about a romantic adventure with his partner, who is now his wife.

Macek’s father, Ralf, was born and raised in the German town of Geldern, making Brooks a Canadian-German dual citizen. And this factor undoubtedly inspired him to target the DEL for on-ice employment.

Furthermore, the chance to play with a couple of former NHL players in Iserlohn was a major incentive for Macek at that time.

Mike York was there my first couple years, so I got to play with him for a while,” the Winnpeg, Manitoba native recalled. “Another guy was Deron Quint who actually played for the original Winnipeg Jets,” added Macek.

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Ex NHLer Michael York (left) in 2002-03 during his stint with the Edmonton Oilers, and Deron Quint (right) of the Winnipeg Jets during the 1995-96 regular season. These photos are property of Getty Images and were assembled courtesy of http://www.MakePhotoGallery.com

And those were just a couple of the “pretty cool players” Macek got an opportunity to play with and learn from on the other side of the pond, during his time with the Roosters.

“All the guys were great. When I went over I was only 21, so I was like a really young guy in that league. Most of the guys who go over there, they’ve already had their time here in North America playing in the AHL, and then they make the move over that way. Not usually right after junior, but all the guys were great.”

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Brooks Macek prepared for a defensive zone face-off during his time with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL

In 2016, Macek joined the Munich EHC Red Bulls of the DEL as a free-agent, and that’s where he put forth his most productive season in professional hockey. During the 2017-18 campaign, he led his team with 26 goals and registered 44 points through 51 games to finish second on the roster in overall scoring.

Macek didn’t just light up the scoresheet in 2018, though. He also captured his second consecutive league championship with the Red Bulls, and won a silver medal for Germany at the winter olympics in Pyeongchang.

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Brooks Macek (second from the right) celebrates with teammates from Germany’s national team, after capturing silver at the 2018 winter olympics in Pyeongchang.

Following his fifth season playing in Germany, Macek finally received the offer that never came after his final year of junior hockey, when the Vegas Golden Knights came calling last summer.

“I never had a chance with an NHL team, and I think every hockey player around the world’s dream is to play in the NHL one day. So I think when Vegas presented an opportunity, I was more than happy and more than excited to take it,” Macek revealed.

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Brooks Macek preparing for a preseason game with the Vegas Golden Knights last September. This photo belongs to NHL.com

But even though Macek and the Golden Knights came to a contractual agreement, the deal was not of the one-way variety, meaning that he would likely need to prove his worth to the organization via their American Hockey League affiliate; the Chicago Wolves.

Going into his first AHL season, the five-foot-10 Macek was acutely aware of certain adjustments he would need to make to his game in order to sustain the same level of success that he had in Europe over the last couple of years. He knew that a return to North America would mean a smaller ice surface than he had grown accustomed to in the DEL.

“I think with the smaller ice, you just have to make your plays a little quicker, keep your head on a swivel, and know what you’re going to do with the puck before you even get it. I find because of that there’s a lot more mistakes, a lot more scoring chances,” he explained.

So far, it has been a successful year for the Wolves, who sit atop the central division standings with 70 points. And to his credit, Macek has assimilated more than seamlessly.

“He’s been great obviously. It’s been a pretty terrific first year for him,” said Wolves teammate Reid Duke.

As one of the team’s elder statesmen at age 27, Macek’s contribution has not only been felt on the ice, but as a mentor off of it as well.

“He’s a pretty quiet guy, but y’know, when he does speak up, y’know it’s important. And he’s a really good guy in the dressing room, just his nature, he’s kinda calming and a bit of an older guy so he’s really looking out for the younger players,” added Duke.

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Brooks Macek celebrates a goal with teammate Gage Quinney (This photo belongs to the Chicago Wolves)

On the ice, Macek exhibits several high-grade attributes that have helped him compile 23 goals and 30 assists through the first 55 regular season contests. Only his line mate, Daniel Carr has outproduced those totals, and Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson points to the veteran having a quick release on his shot as a prime reason for his success offensively.

Thompson also believes that Macek has a high hockey IQ, which allows him to elude opposing defenders and put himself in scoring positions more frequently.

Even in practice, his Wolves teammates are often baffled by how difficult it is to defend against Macek, “He’s got an amazing shot, and he’s a pretty opportunistic player, so whenever he’s making plays or shooting the puck they seem to go in,” said forward Stefan Matteau.

Although it’s typically a difficult task to get hockey players to praise themselves, Macek is aware that he is producing at a high level for the Wolves. But like most hockey players, he is also quick to deflect questions about himself, and move the spotlight in the direction of his teammates.

“Obviously it’s been a pretty good season for a lot of the guys on the team. We’re scoring a lot of goals this year, and I think we might be first in the league in goals for,” he admitted.

With the Wolves approaching the final quarter of their season, and sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, Macek and his teammates have their sights set on achieving even more. And personally, Chicago’s sniper remains focused on getting better each and every day.

“I think I can work on everything in my game. I think you have to keep working on every aspect of your game to get better. I mean if you’re not getting better, then chances are you’re getting worse,” he said.

This philosophy might also help Macek achieve his dream of playing in the NHL.

Some DePaul students absent from polls

As many people across the United States of America will be exercising their freedom of speech and their right to vote in the 2018 state primary election on Tuesday.

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Republican candidate Bruce Rauner and democrat J.B. Pritzker, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

While a vast portion of DePaul University students made it a point to go to polling stations on Tuesday, a steady collection of the university’s attendees conveniently casted their absentee ballots if Illinois is not their home state.

But not everyone on campus will be deploying their ticket to democracy in this election. Brandon Sommer, for instance, has decided not to vote on Tuesday because he feels apathetic to both republican candidate Bruce Rauner, as well as J.B. Pritzker of the democrat party.

“It’s sad, but I don’t trust either candidate, and I don’t feel any positive attachment to one of the parties this time around at all,” said Sommer, who is a junior at DePaul.

Minnesota native Dillon Orth, who contrarily would have liked to vote in the midterms, but he blamed his school midterms and his busy schedule for getting in the way of mailing in a ballot to his home state.

Other DePaul students didn’t exactly ‘forget’ to vote like Orth did, or choose to abstain from participating in this election like Sommer did. The international segment of DePaul’s student body was naturally prohibited from this process altogether given their status as an alien in the United States.

“I wish I could vote. That would be great. I think right now the political climate is a little bit strange for international students. So being able to have a voice right now would be great,” said Jennifer Kuo, a graduate student at DePaul who studies marketing analysis.

Kuo is Taiwanese and has only lived in North America for under a year, but she would like to settle in the states permanently following her graduation in 2019. However, since the Trump administration took over in 2016, she admits that her status as an international student has made it more difficult for her to plan out her future.

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U.S. President Donald J. Trump, courtesy of CNN

“It’s been more stressful for sure. I thought it would be easy because I have a stem degree, so after I graduate I can do three years working here. So, I thought ‘well, I’ll have three years to get my things together,’ but I keep hearing in the news that they’re going to change this, or that, so I don’t know if by the time I graduate if things will be different. So, there’s just a lot of question marks as an international student.”

In Taiwan, Kuo described the electoral process as being slightly more convenient for those like Dillon Orth, who have busy schedules and may not prioritize voting ahead of other personal commitments.

“I think back home we have a lot more locations where you can go vote. And it also runs for the entire day back home. I know the polls here close at six or seven o’clock here in the states, but for us it runs throughout the night. And our elections are always on the weekend as well,” Kuo explained.

Anamika, an international student at DePaul from India, echoed the sentiments of Kuo in terms of wishing she could be participating in the American primaries.

“It’s tough, especially when you know you want to stay here long-term, and everything else that I’m doing here contributes to society, but you’re not given the ability to vote. It kind of hurts,” she said on Tuesday.

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Skyline of Chicago via the Chicago Tribune

Meanwhile, despite remaining hopeful that she may one day be able to contribute to democracy in America, Anamika did indicate that she is still learning how the process works in this country compared to back home in India.

“India is also a democratic country just like here, so people always talk about it and people have their opinions. One thing that is different is that there I have a say and I can vote, and I can be part of all the discussions and my vote matters there,” Anamika said.

Anamika also joked that while she is not allowed vote, she is not aware of any law that prohibits her to follow the results; and she looks forward to doing so.

Chicago can come together via sports

Longtime Chicago sports writer Fred Mitchell has felt the wrath of racial segregation during his 41 year career at the Chicago Tribune. Although the city’s team reflect aspects of the divide in Chicago, Mitchell believes that citizens can look to these teams differently, and see how people of different origin can work together.

In a city like Chicago, where the words “multiculturalism” and “diversity” only scratch the surface in terms of describing the largest metropolitan city in the Midwest, there is a wide variety of cultural diffusion.

This highly segregated city a hot spot for art, music, sports, and entertainment, and in a setting that is practically defined by the differences of its inhabitants, many Chicagoans rally around the town’s sports teams. And in part, the city’s teams and fan bases actually reflect these very differences.

“For myself, growing up on the south side of Chicago as part of a hard working family, I follow a certain approach to my everyday life that was instilled in me by my parents from an early age,” said Shawn Lipson, a 25 year old construction worker from the city’s Pilsen neighborhood.

Like a lot of south siders, Lipson and his family root for the Chicago White Sox when it comes time to enjoy America’s pastime.

“As a family, we always watched the Chicago White Sox because we’ve embraced the same blue collar mentality that this team stands for. Our team might not spend as much money as the Cubs do, but the White Sox have never afraid to get their nose dirty in order to compete with some of the richer clubs,” Lipson explained.

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Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.

Similarly, Stephanie Christopher’s family cheers for the White Sox because when she was a child those were the only baseball games her family could afford to go to.

“My sister and I grew up in Little Italy, and our parents worked for the city. We always went to more White Sox games because honestly they were a lot more affordable,” said Christopher.

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Area outside Guaranteed Rate Field.

Conversely, Tyler Green and his family said that he and his siblings were raised only to root for the Cubs. Growing up in Lakeview, he said that Cubs baseball was like a religion, “In my opinion, the Cubs are Chicago’s team, and I could never see myself cheering for the Sox,” offered Green.

According to longtime sports journalist Fred Mitchell, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune for 41 years, this longtime disparity between Cubs and White Sox fans is a microcosm of a reality that exceeds far beyond Chicago’s baseball sphere.

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Head shot of adjunct professor Fred Mitchell, courtesy of DePaul University

“It’s always sort of been the elephant in the room conversation about the Cubs and the White Sox and the north siders and the south siders,” Mitchell explained. “The south siders are sort of generalized by referring to them as sort of blue collared, and the north siders are the more affluent. And a lot of the paranoia from south siders and White Sox fans has emanated because of the fact that they feel they’re thought of as being inferior,” he added.

Mitchell began his sports writing career at the Tribune in early 1970s, and as an African American man himself, he felt the effects of segregation throughout the course of his prolific career.

“Well certainly early on in my career there were bumps in the road shall we say. I remember getting letters, name calling, death threats,” he recounted.

“I remember the first time my picture appeared in the newspaper, because before it used to be just the byline, but when my picture appeared then I got some reaction. People would say ‘oh, I thought you were white, the way you write’ or something like that. Like you know, a backhanded compliment. So I would get that kind of feedback, and I always sort of felt that I had something to prove with each new editor that came in. I felt like I had to show him or her what I was capable of doing,” said Mitchell, who now serves as an adjunct professor at DePaul University.

But according to the award winning writer, the citizens of Chicago who may feel divided by race or nationality, or by their socio-economic standing, should actually look to sports for inspiration.

“The unique thing about sports, is that teams are comprised of athletes from various ethnic groups. So to the extent that Chicago is considered one of if not the most segregated city in America, to have athletic teams that are comprised of whites and African Americans and Asians and Hispanics, pulling together on the same team, I think is admirable,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell believes that the common people of Chicago from all neighborhoods could look to winning teams in professional sports as a sort of utopia in the sense that embody unity despite whatever racial differences exist in a locker room, “and I think that ordinary citizens should take to heart what can be accomplished if everybody works together for a common goal,” he emphasized.

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The 2005 Chicago White Sox, and the 2016 Chicago Cubs both exemplified this practice.

Photography

This past Sunday, I had the good fortune of exploring parts of Chicago, as well as going apple picking at County Orchard Line, in Hobart, Indiana. I took several photos throughout the course of the weekend with my DSL camera, and I put together a slideshow with a few of my favorites. Since the Chicago White Sox season just came to an end on Sunday, I figured I’d include some photos I snapped near their home field.

This past Sunday, I had the good fortune of exploring parts of Chicago, as well as going apple picking at County Orchard Line, in Hobart, Indiana. I took several photos throughout the course of the weekend with my DSL camera, and I put together a slideshow with a few of my favorites. Since the Chicago White Sox season just came to an end on Sunday, I figured I’d include some photos I snapped near their home field.

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