One-on-one with Worcester Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin

Matt Irwin, seen here in pre-season action against the Anaheim Ducks on September 23 at HP Pavilion, is the second leading scorer {6-8-14} on the Worcester Sharks and is the fourth leading scorer in the AHL amongst defensemen.

Special thank you to Eric Lindquist and Matt Irwin for this opportunity. Enjoy.

You just celebrated your 24th birthday on November 29. Did you do anything for your special day?
No, I just relaxed during the day. We had a late team practice and then skating with the Sharks.

I saw the news clip on YouTube of your signing with the San Jose Sharks organization, which was posted by "TheNanaimoClippers" on March 23, 2010. Did you buy your dad that truck with your first professional paycheck?
No, I didn’t {laughs}. That was just kind of a joke going around {laughs}.

How did you first become interested in hockey?
I guess just growing up back home in Canada, everyone my age was playing it and I started at a young age, four years old. I played both soccer and hockey, although neither of my parents played hockey growing up. Eventually, I had a choice to make and I went with hockey.

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to be a professional hockey player?
I just took it year-by-year and one step at a time. After playing in the British Columbia Hockey League {BCHL}, I wanted to play in the NCAA. I told them {Umass Amherst} of my intentions of being there for four years. I played well enough that the opportunity to pursue playing professional hockey came early, which is something everyone strives for when playing hockey growing up.

What did you enjoy most about playing for the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL and how much did your time there help you prepare for Umass Amherst?
Playing in Nanaimo was very personal to my development. I just enjoyed being there and around guys who had the same goals of wanting to play NCAA hockey. Being around head coach Bill Bestwick, who was a great role model for me, helped developed me into the player I am now. He was a hard nose coach who expected a lot from his players and the players respected him for that.

During your time in Nanaimo, the team won four consecutive Chevrolet Cups {now known as the Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy}, which is awarded to the team that accumulates the most points during the regular season, and won the Centennial Cup championship in 2007. How was the team able to be that consistent?
Coach Bestwick had a good system in place and the team recruited well by doing their homework. The team recruited players from Saskatchewan and other areas of Canada. We also had a couple of American players on the squad as well. Once you build your reputation as a winning organization, players want to go there. We were lucky enough to win the regular season each year I was there and lucky enough to win the championship in 2007 {we lost in the finals to Penticton in 2008}.

What attracted you to UMass Amherst and what was it like playing there?
They were the first school that became interested in me. I had a good start to my second year in Nanaimo after not having a good first year {3-6-9} and started getting attention from schools. UMass Amherst was the first school to approach me. I talked to assistant coach Len Quesnelle, and he told me what the coaches wanted and expected out of me if I decided to go there. From there, I went on a recruiting trip and met the coaches. I had a good feeling for the program and the direction they were going in. It was a no brainer as I loved the campus, the school and I had a chance to come out east, which I had never been before.

You played both seasons {2008-10} at UMass Amherst with James Marcou and Justin Braun. What was it like playing with them in college and what has it been like playing with them in Worcester?
It was a good experience. James was a sophomore my freshman year and Justin was a junior. Justin and I were on the power play together and were defensive partners for most of the year. I looked up to Justin as he had success his first two years at UMass Amherst and was seen as a leader on the team. It was nice to play with him. It’s funny how it all worked out in that James and I knew Justin had got drafted by San Jose and then James got the same opportunity I got by signing with San Jose at the same time I did. It was nice to have familiar faces when I got to Worcester and its been fun continuing our hockey careers with each other.

What went through your mind when you signed with the San Jose Sharks organization in 2010 as an undrafted free agent and had San Jose been scouting you?
I went to their development camp in July after my freshman year at UMass Amherst to see what everything was about. I learned a lot from the scouts and coaches through video and everything. It was nice to see how an NHL organization is operated. I went back to school and San Jose kept an eye on me during the year but I didn’t know much about it or if they wanted to sign me as I kept that stuff to my advisor at the time. My parents were more involved in that process than I was as I was more concerned with hockey at the time and trying to make the playoffs. After the playoffs, Casey Wellman was getting approached by many teams and decided to leave to pursue professional hockey. I talked it over with my dad, who informed me of everything that had been going on between them and the Sharks, and it just came down to a decision of whether I wanted to leave school and pursue hockey. I had the support of my family, who left the decision in my hands and said it was up to me if I wanted to leave. I’ve always dreamed of that moment and school will always be there for me to go back and get my degree. That’s what I’m doing right now, pursuing hockey because its there.

What have you enjoyed most about playing in Worcester?
My first year and this year, we’ve been a young team. There are a couple of older guys but it’s not really an older team. Everyone is generally around the same age as some are out of juniors and some are out of college. Everyone is on the same page and we get along good as a team.

How would you compare this year’s team to last year’s?
This year’s team is a little bit younger and I think we rely more on hard work instead of skill. The guys have the skill but our determination, cycling, going to hard areas and taking the puck to the net is what makes us successful. Last year, we had guys like Jonathan Cheechoo and Dan DaSilva that had a lot more skill and this year, we have a more grind type team to wear teams down and get goals that way.

What do you remember about scoring your first career professional goal on October 29, 2010, against Tyler Plante, who was with the Rochester Americans at the time?
I remember jumping up on the rush and I think it was Andrew Desjardins who put the puck on net. I went to the net looking for a rebound and the puck happened to pop out and I backhanded the puck over Plante’s shoulder for the goal.

You’re three power play goals away from tying Garret Stafford’s team record for most power play goals in a season by a defenseman {nine}. Is it safe to say you enjoy shooting on the power play, especially from on top of the left face-off circle?
Yeah {laughs}. So far this year, the power play has been good to me. Everytime I get the puck, I’m looking to shoot to create a rebound chance or to score a goal for myself. Early on this season, I’ve been fortunate to get the puck through and beat the goalie or create an opportunity for my teammates.

How did you develop your howitzer slap shot?
It’s something I’ve always worked on but my first year in Nanaimo, coach Bestwick had me stand at the blue line and take slap shots. He put Marc Cheverie in net, lined pucks up and had me take shot after shot with no screen in front. It was frustrating because I knew none of the shots would go in, which they didn’t {laughs}, but the point wasn’t to score. Coach Bestwick knew at some point I would get frustrated but he told me to put my all into every shot and to keep shooting. It was a frustrating drill but it has paid off.

I’ve read various players say that their first year of professional hockey is a blur but in their second season, the game slows down and they can see things more clearly. Has that been your experience so far?
There’s some truth to that. Your first year, you’re trying to grasp as much as you can and soak everything in, such as the atmosphere and life style. It’s a lot more different coming from school and learning how to deal with time away from the rink. Your second year, you have more familiarity, you know what to expect and how the system works. You learn the ins-and-outs of pro hockey a little more and that makes things easier.

When someone from Worcester gets called up to San Jose, does that affect the team chemistry in Worcester?
I don’t think so. I think when someone gets called up, you’re excited for them and it creates an opportunity for someone who hasn’t got much attention to step in. Getting that opportunity and doing something with it is what you look for. With me, I was in-and-out of the lineup my first year but when Justin got called up to San Jose, I settled in with his spot on the power play and I got more confident as the coaches put me out there. Call-ups don’t necessarily tinker with the team because everyone practices with each other.

How have you been able to keep your penalty minutes to a minimum? In 67 games at UMass Amherst, you registered just 24 penalty minutes and in 89 games with Worcester, you have just 49 penalty minutes {43 last season, six this season}.
I’ve never really been a guy that gets a lot of penalty minutes but the biggest thing is being in good position and keeping your stick on the ice. Nowadays, if you lift your stick, you’re going to get called for something. Having good position and keeping the stick on the ice will limit penalty minutes.

In 2007-08, you were named Top Community Minded Player for Nanaimo and I’ve read comments on various message boards of people saying how much of a class act you are. How much do you enjoy all the community activities Worcester does throughout the season?
It’s important us players get out there and give back by doing community events. Without them, there is a strong chance of there being no hockey program where you’re playing. Through community events, you get to know the fans and vice versa. It brightens up their day as they get a chance to mingle with their favorite players. The community events are fun and are something different from being at the rink.

In that same news clip I mentioned earlier, it showed you working out in the weight room. Do you have a favorite and least favorite exercise when working out?
My favorite exercise would be squats and Olympic lifting. My least favorite would be chin ups as I’m not a huge fan of them because I get tired {laughs}.

How do you prepare physically and mentally for an entire season?
I take some time off when the season ends and get away from everything hockey. It’s important mentally and physically as it’s a long season {80 games last year, 76 games this year} with practice everyday so it’s good to refresh the body and mind. After my time off, I get back into the gym when my body tells me as I get that itching feeling to get back on the ice. That’s when I know to get going again because I’m excited about it.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received?
My dad told me to go with my gut and if it doesn’t feel right in the stomach, it’s probably not going to be the best decision. If it feels right, go with it and if not, go an alternate route.

Have you had a chance to check out your cyber character in EA Sports’ NHL 12 video game?
Yes, I’ve seen myself in the game {laughs}. I think they did a pretty good job. I was playing with my buddy this summer on the old one {NHL 11} and I think they got it right on as I had a good shot, wasn't fast and didn’t hit {laughs}. I noticed in the new one {NHL 12}, I’m a bit faster and can hit {laughs}.

What do you like to do in your down time?
Right now, I’m taking some classes but other than that, I play some video games with teammates and watch movies. In the summer time, I like to go golfing, and be at the beach and lake. It’s nice to get away from hockey and do outdoors stuff. My favorite video game is NHL and I’m starting to get into Call of Duty. I just got an Xbox360 and Call of Duty so we play a lot. I’ve gotten a couple of kills here and there {laughs}.

I read on the UMass Amherst website you majored in legal studies. Are you still working towards getting the degree?
I switched my degree to management and I’m going for my Bachelor’s of Science in Management. I’m over halfway done. I’m slowly plugging away at it because I’m not taking full course loads but getting that degree is something I told myself I would do.

Will you be getting a twitter anytime soon?
No, I will not be getting a twitter {laughs}. I don’t think people would find my life interesting or worthy to tweet about {laughs}.

Matt Irwin Quick Hits

Nickname....."Matty"

Favorite Musician.....Jason Aldean

Favorite movie....."Dumb & Dumber"

Favorite TV show....."King of Queens"

Favorite NHL Team growing up.....Vancouver Canucks.

Favorite road city.....Charlotte

Favorite professional team {other than Sharks}.....Toronto Blue Jays

Favorite sport {other than hockey}.....Baseball

Favorite book.....Cat and the Hat

Favorite MMA fighter.....George St. Pierre because he’s a Canadian who kicks butt.

Favorite food.....Steak

Favorite website.....nhl.com

Favorite holiday.....Christmas or summer {don’t get to go home for Christmas}

Favorite magazine.....Hockey News or Maxim

Favorite saying…..none

Favorite board game.....Monopoly

Favorite pro athlete.....Trevor Linden growing up

Favorite hockey moment.....Signing first professional contract.

Hockey idol.....Scott Niedermayer

First job.....{oh geez laughs} umpired baseball, reffed hockey and worked at grocery store all at same time.

Hidden talent.....I can speak French.

Favorite Restaurant.....The Keg Steakhouse & Bar

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