World Junior gold medalist embraces hockey opportunities

World Junior gold medalist embraces hockey opportunities
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Jack Matier’s junior career has seen him win gold medals internationally while being drafted into the NHL and getting his first taste of professional hockey during training camp

The past two years have been quite a whirlwind for Sault Ste. Marie’s Jack Matier.

When the Ontario Hockey League returned from a suspended season due to COVID-19 in September 2021, Matier returned to the league as a draft pick of the NHL’s Nashville Predators.

He also had a gold medal as a member of Team Canada at the 2021 U18 World Championships in Texas in the spring of 2021.

This season, the 19-year-old added a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship and is in the midst of a career season offensively with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, a team looking to make a long playoff run that they hope will culminate with an OHL title and a Memorial Cup championship.

Over the past two seasons in Ottawa, the blueliner has seen his game evolve over the years.

“My skating ability has really helped me create plays and create plays for myself,” Matier said. “It comes with overall strength and it’s becoming an older player in the league and being more confident.”

A fourth-round pick by the Predators, Matier said he is focused on the small details of his game as the 67-year-old season continues and he looks to make the leap to professional hockey after his time in Ottawa is over.

“It’s really dialing in the little details and stuff during practice, working on little things like moving your feet at the blue line or doing simple drills like that,” Matier said. “Just typing in the little details is something that will help me be successful when I turn pro.”

NHL training camp is always an eye-opening experience for young players after they are drafted.

For Matier, taking full advantage of that was crucial to learning to play at the next level.

“It’s always good to be around really good NHL players,” Matier said. “I really saw what guys were doing off the rink, rehabbing and stretching and stuff. Their preparation for their ice times and their workouts, it’s on a different level from junior.”

While in camp with Nashville, Matier said he also learned how players focus on their roles and make the most of them.

“It’s really something where guys are finding their role and they’re mastering it,” Matier said. “A guy like Ryan McDonough is off the charts with his skating ability and moving the puck up. Roman Josi is obviously a guy who scores a ton of points, but what’s overlooked is his ability to share the puck with his teammates.”

Part of the Canadian team that won gold at the World Juniors earlier this month, Matier recounted the unforgettable experience of Team Canada’s overtime win in the final over the Czech Republic.

Dylan Guenther scored the overtime winner for Canada after the Czech Republic battled back from a two-goal deficit with a pair of quick goals in the third period.

The game was also a form of redemption for the Canadian team, which dropped its tournament opener to the Czech Republic on the opening day of the event.

“Going into the game we were really confident that we were the better team, but you always have to respect your opponents and we knew the Czech Republic were a really good team,” Matier said. “We were really confident, but when they came back with those two quick goals, we took a step back and took a breath. In overtime, there’s so much skill on the team and so many great players from across Canada that we knew one of them would step up and be the hero.”

Matier added that winning gold was special in another way because a group of players including the Sault product were part of a gold medal-winning Canadian team at the 2021 spring U18 tournament.

“It was special to win with these guys,” Matier said.

The gold medal was made even more special for Matier because he had tons of family with him in Halifax to watch him play.

“As a kid growing up you always want to play in the World Juniors and play for Team Canada and have my parents there and see how much they’ve sacrificed over the years for me to be successful, my brother is one of my best friends, that having him there was also special and so were my grandparents,” Matier said. “It was just an amazing experience to share with them.”

Matier is one of two Sault products to suit up for Ottawa this season. Cooper Foster cracked the 67 this season after spending last year with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds. Foster was a second pick of the 67ers in the 2021 OHL draft.

“It’s great to have another Sault guy on the team,” Matier said. “When we feel a little homesick, all we can talk about is the Sault.”

Matier also spoke highly of Foster’s play on the ice as well.

“He’s really turned himself into a really good hockey player this year,” Matier said. “The year at level two last year for him really helped his development. He was able to play big minutes and develop a lot. Coming back this year I knew he was going to be a big part of our team and he has really stepped up for us .”

In his third full season with the 67s, Matier is playing for former Soo Greyhounds coach Dave Cameron in Ottawa. The Sault product was highly praised for Cameron.

“He’s a really good coach and just a great person,” Matier said. “He’s definitely come in here and taken over from Andre Tourigny and done a really good job with a young team last year. You could see us building toward what was coming this year at the end of last year (with) our culture and our DNA on the ice.”

Matier said playing for coaches like Cameron and Tourigny in Ottawa is a plus for players.

“If you talk to people around the hockey world, you’ll probably hear they’re pretty similar people,” Matier said of his OHL coaches. “They’re very demanding coaches, but that’s why you see so many players develop under them and turn into NHL players and have successful careers after that. They’re very demanding, but they know what it takes to get to the next level . They are really proud of their players and what they achieve after they leave.”

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