First, I never mean to diminish what Auston Matthews did last May in Scottsdale, Arizona, for which he was charged with a misdemeanor. I can only imagine the impact on the female security guard when what she thought was going to be a routine all-night shift watching a high-end condominium complex turned into a frightening experience when she was approached by a group of intoxicated young men who tried to enter her car.
That one of those young men was the Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews suggests just how thoughtless hockey players, who are also young men, can be. It’s only been about 15 months since Matthews was legally called out for his behavior in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mathews was charged with disorderly conduct and disruptive behavior – a misdemeanor charge that was later dismissed.
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According to the Scottsdale Police Department, when the guard confronted the young men, Matthews tried to be amusing to see how the guard would react, so he dropped his pants and grabbed his rear-end (he was still wearing underwear).
The charges were dropped in November, but the incident might have cost Matthews a chance to become the Maple Leafs captain. His behavior also fell far short of Maple Leafs’ expectations. He compounded his problems by telling no one in the organization about the incident until he was forced to when reports came out before an Arizona hearing in September.
Matthews fessed up and admitted, “I made a mistake, and it’s been a lesson learned. I’ll try to put my best foot forward and just strive to be better in all aspects of my life.”
The question I want to explore in this post is: Did he learn his lesson as he said he did?
Three Examples of How Auston Matthews Grew This Season
From what I’ve seen this season, I think there’s that Matthews was true to his word. If so, that Matthews got caught with his pants down might not have been a bad thing for himself or his team. [However, as I noted earlier, it might be another question for the security guard.] I believe Maple Leafs fans have watched him grow both as a player and as person this season. In this post, I’ll share three examples of how Matthews grew this season.
Way One: Matthews Learned to Keep His Cool
As I noted, the 2019-20 NHL season couldn’t have started worse for Matthews. His legal troubles cost his reputation within the organization and with many Maple Leafs fans. Still, to his credit, he didn’t mope. As the season picked up, so did he. He was neck-in-neck for the Rocket Richard Trophy (the NHL’s top goal scorer) when COVID-19 suspended the regular season. Then, while he was quarantining in Arizona, he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
He was “outed” by Maple Leafs hockey commentator Steve Simmons, who broke the news of Matthews’ positive test. That went against NHL policy – not that Simmons was bound by those policies as a reporter; however, many found that “outing” unethical. Matthews said nothing at the time.
But many Maple Leafs fans wondered how Matthews would react the next time he was interviewed by Simmons during the course of both their jobs. It was bound to happen, and it did during the play-in postseason series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In a post-game interview, Simmons asked Matthews a question. Morgan Rielly, who was sitting next to Matthews at the time, immediately knew the relevance of what was happening and looked terribly uncomfortable to say the least.
Then Matthews spoke. The first thing he said to Simmons what that he didn’t appreciate that Simmons had broken the news: he noted that he had suffered for what Simmons did. Then, after Matthew calmly spoke his piece, he answered Simmons question fully and without drama or confrontation. That’s maturity.
Way Two: Matthews Learned to Speak for the Team
During the postgame interviews after his team lost 3-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the players’ faces spoke loudly. Matthews was especially introspective, which I’ve started to equate with his growing “determination” to respond thoughtfully to what’s happening with his team.
Later, on August 12, less than a week after the Maple Leafs’ left the bubble to go home, the team conducted a media interview that ended the season. For the fourth year in a row expectations were high but results didn’t match them. The team once again failed to win a postseason series.
Among others Matthews spoke with the media about the team’s season and future plans. Matthews responded to questions in a lengthy manner. He called out himself and his team by saying, “Having a good regular season really isn’t cutting it anymore. We’ve got to figure out the playoffs, figure out how to get out of this first round. Four years in a row is pretty frustrating and a little bit embarrassing as well.”
He spoke for the team and noted that, despite any on-ice results, “with the players we have on this team and the core group that we have – being together for four years now – we really believe we are right there.”
Then he added two additional thoughts.
First, “the perception of how things are going or how the team’s been perceived outside the locker room may be a lot different than what we believe in.”
Second, “we don’t really care what other people think, or how far away other people think we are, or the article they’re going to write about all the things that we need. I think we believe in our management and in our staff and in the players on this team and in this organization that we’re going to power through this adversity and we’re going to break through eventually.”
When Matthews speaks, he shows that he’s a deeply-driven young man who’s transforming from only a young player with great offensive skills into a leader both on and off the ice.
Way Three: Matthews Separated Himself from the Rest of the NHL Players
Speaking about his on-ice play, I’ve been struck this season that Matthews has separated himself from other players both in the NHL and on his team. He’s been really good hockey player, now he’s a great one. His two-way game has grown and he’s becoming more skilled and determined at both ends of the ice. That he was a nominee for the Lady Byng Award tells us how the NHL views his growth.
On the ice, he’s become a really good player. During the Blue Jackets postseason series, he was one Maple Leafs player who brought it every game. Despite being hounded consistently by the Blue Jackets’ defense, he produced. He’s more than a one-dimensional player.
Regardless of what happened on the ice, Matthews didn’t hang his head. He’s shown leadership, which is something Matthews has grown into more this season than before. Matthews’ development is a positive sign; and, although he’s still young, he’s becoming the Maple Leafs’ next leader. He’s beginning to speak for “his” team and share their beliefs.
I Believe Matthews Has Been True to His Word
I might be wrong, but I don’t think Matthews remains the thoughtless young man who pulled his pants down to see how a security guard would react. I also believe him when he said a year ago, “I made a mistake, and it’s been a lesson learned.”
From what we see, his off-ice behavior has been exemplary. He answers interview questions fully and shows a tasteful sense of humor. After all, he was named as a Lady Byng candidate – that should tell us something.
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