Fresh off of their 6-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche, the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have too much time to gloat, as they’ve got a game against the Arizona Coyotes to play.
Auston Matthews scored a goal - his 16th of the season - and brought his points totals to 25 in 32 games, tied for both the lead in Leafs scoring, and second in league-wide rookie scoring.
And now, he’s headed back home - and getting quite the welcome.
Auston Matthews returns home. Check out the cover of today's newspaper: pic.twitter.com/WpyjXaTHNw— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) December 23, 2016
This is a big deal, after all. It was a big deal when the Leafs selected him with the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft back in June; the first time a player from Arizona was getting picked that high.
Looks like hockey in the desert has its benefits after all, eh? And they’re still ongoing: even the kids who were once in Matthews’ small skates are getting amped up.
Matthews' Midget coach told him he cancelled practice tomorrow because no one wanted to go. Team too excited for his return vs. Coyotes.— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 22, 2016
And via NHL.com:
"I know so many people going to the game," said Pat Mahan, who coached Matthews when he was growing up and whose son, Michael, is Matthews' best friend. "My team [in the Arizona Bobcats program] is still playing right now. We have practice and kids are asking me if I'm going and saying, 'Isn't it cool? It's going to be so cool to see him.'“
Via the Athletic, Matthews is the embodiment of what happens when you’re able to put the game in what’s considered a non-traditional market - he’s how it grows. He’s a key part in how more kids get to enjoy the game he first got into back when he was their size.
With the increased interest in hockey resonating the most with the youngest players, it could be years before the hockey world understands the full effect of Auston Matthews’ successful rookie season. For now, coaches like DeAngelis, whose son will attend the game tonight between the Leafs and Coyotes, is simply happy there’s a role model for young children where there wasn’t one before.
“We’re getting these little guys that are five or six years old,” he said, “and they’re growing up with a culture of hockey that includes Auston Matthews as the star.”
Speaking of a little kid-sized Matthews...
Auston Matthews makes it 1-0. pic.twitter.com/rW45IIveMd— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) December 16, 2016
And now he’s back - albeit, wearing a different jersey.
It’s going to be an amazing night for hockey in the desert.