LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Auston Matthews is the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 20.
This is a Toronto Maple Leafs first: James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander have been featured on regional NHL covers in the past, but this is the first time that a Leaf will be the worldwide cover star.
In conjunction with this announcement, Matthews sat down with SB Nation to talk about a variety of things, from his happiness with his Chel rating to horseback riding and his Hispanic heritage.
NHL 20 will be released in September 2019.
SB Nation: So have you played a lot of EA Sports games?
Auston Matthews: I’ve played NHL for a long time. Cycle through different games, whether it’s Fortnite, NHL or whatever. I do play quite a bit of it.
SBN: Are you satisfied with your rating?
AM: I don’t even know what I am. I’ll take whatever.
There’s a new feature, one on one on one, so it’s like threes, every man for himself.
That’s what I was playing yesterday. I was playing my guy with Subban and Bissonnette.
My guy looked pretty good out there, I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty happy with him.
SBN: You were using Bissonnette?
AM: No, I was using myself. He was playing too.
SBN: Oh, I was wondering if Biz is still in the game.
AM: He’s not.
SBN: Well, his fighting would be high.
AM: Yeah, he’d probably be a 99 fighter.
SBN: That’s great. I wanted to get into your heritage a bit. Your mom grew up on a ranch outside of Hermosillo, Mexico. Have you been?
AM: I have, actually. Been there once. I was extremely young, but it was a lot of fun. I was basically a cowboy for a day. I experienced what she experienced when she was a kid. Helping out, riding horses.
SBN: How old were you?
AM: I was probably eight.
SBN: Have you kept up with horse riding?
AM: No, that was a one-time thing. I’m not a big horse rider.
SBN: Probably in your contract too.
AM: Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be doing that anyway. No horse riding for me.
SBN: From what I understand, you can speak a little bit of Spanish. How fluent are you? If you got lost in Mexico, you could get around?
AM: I can get around. I can get around just fine. I used to be really fluent. Then I lost a bit. I could have a conversation with somebody. I’d probably butcher a lot of things. But I could get by.
SBN: I imagine a lot of your fluency with Spanish came from your mom, who wasn’t a native English speaker.
AM: That wasn’t her first language. But my Dad speaks Spanish with her all the time. He’s fluent. My whole family could have a conversation.
I don’t want to use the word fluent [with myself]. Proficient? Whether it’s ordering food at a restaurant or whatever.
SBN: So if you go to a bachelor party and they lose you in Mexico, you’re okay?
AM: Yeah, I’d be perfectly fine.
SBN: Your childhood nickname of “Papi,” I’ve heard different stories about it. Your mom coined it. You’re nicknamed after the baseball player David Ortiz. Which story is true? Both?
AM: No, it was my mom. It was just coincidence [with David Ortiz], actually.
Everybody called me that when I was younger.
I played baseball growing up too and he was my favorite player. So it was just kind of a coincidence.
He wore No. 34. My dad and my grandpa both wore No. 34. They didn’t play hockey, but they played baseball, basketball, so I wore No. 34.
No. 34 comes from my dad.
SBN: I’ve also read about the lengths that your mom went to, getting the ingredients for your favorite Mexican meals into Switzerland when you played there. Things like cilantro which aren’t sold regularly there. Can you talk about how food ties you to your heritage?
AM: I love Mexican food. She’s a great cook. My dad is a great cook as well. But when it comes to Mexican food, she’s the one who takes over.
She lived in Switzerland with me. It was amazing for both of us. I was in Ann Arbor with NTDP for two years, but I didn’t really get to see much of her. It was a long trip, so I didn’t get to go home much.
When one of them visited me, it was usually my dad. So it was nice to spend eight, nine months with her. Even if it was overseas. It really brought us extremely close. We did some traveling. And like you said, she got dialed in there at the grocery store with certain ingredients for me.
SBN: I know you introduced her chicken tortilla soup to some of your teammates in Switzerland. Have you been able to do that with teammates in Toronto?
AM: Yeah, a little bit. When we played [in Arizona] last year, I had all the staff over. So they cooked some chicken tortilla soup and some tacos. Traditional Mexican cuisine. Everybody loved it.
I’ve introduced it to quite a lot of people and I’ve never heard anybody say they don’t like it.
SBN: I hadn’t heard about your dad being an excellent cook too. What’s he make?
AM: He used to like to experiment a lot. But he’ll cook anything. Italian, barbequeing.
For more about Matthews’s Hispanic heritage, including his thoughts about being a Mexican-American idol, look for my story from NBC Latino soon. You can also follow me on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.