EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — This past weekend has been quite the whirlwind for Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Matt Roy.
Roy’s world would change quite suddenly after the game, when he learned that he would be called up to the Kings.
“I found out last night from [Reign head coach] Mike Stothers in Ontario,” said the 23-year-old, 6-1, 206-pound native of Canton, Michigan. “He pulled me [aside] after the game and told me I was coming up. I was told that it was questionable whether I would play or not. But when I got to the rink this morning, I saw my number on the board and that’s when I found out [that he would play]. It’s been great.”
Despite getting the word late on Friday night, Roy called home right away to give his parents, Rich and Julie Roy, the good news.
“When I talked to my Dad, he told me to take a moment to look where I’m at and appreciate everything because you only get one first [NHL] game. I did that and it was great.”
“My Mom gave me some good, encouraging words,” he added. “I think that made me play better tonight.”
“It was awesome,” Roy said about his first NHL game. “It was something that I’ve dreamed about growing up. Everything was just great. I couldn’t be more grateful and thankful to everyone from the Kings and everybody else. It’s been awesome.”
“I tried not to think about it too much,” Roy added. “I just tried to go out there and play as [simply] as I could and play as well as I could so I could help my team.”
Roy indicated that he was a bit nervous earlier that day. But he added that he was mostly able to keep his mind off of hockey that afternoon.
“The mind races a little bit,” he noted. “I tried to distract myself, getting my thoughts away from hockey for the day. I just tried to focus on tonight when I got here.”
But once he arrived at Staples Center, he could no longer avoid the enormity of what was ahead. So when did the jitters finally begin?
“When I got to the rink, kicking the soccer ball around with the guys and then, during the National Anthem,” he indicated. “I usually just look around and see where I’m at. It was pretty surreal.”
But his teammates, most notably, veteran defenseman Dion Phaneuf, helped him to remain calm and focused.
“[The game] was an Original Six team,” he said. “It was kind of crazy just coming into it. But the defensemen on this team—playing with Dion—he kind of took me under his wing and helped me out.”
Head coach Willie Desjardins saw good things from the rookie.
“I thought [Roy’s NHL debut] was good,” he said. “That’s a tough team to come in and play against. I thought he was good late in the game. He was up leading that rush. He showed some confidence, which was good.”
“It’s always tough in your first game,” he added. “You’re excited. There’s always lots going on. I thought he handled it well.”
Just prior to his recall by the Kings, Roy spoke exclusively to Frozen Royalty about his time with the Reign and his development.
Roy indicated that after struggling in his first season in the AHL, this season has been better for him.
“It’s my second year,” he noted. “Last year, I came in with a new group of guys, a new culture, a new style of play. It’s was kind of a transition, coming out of college. But I think, this year, knowing the guys and the staff and everybody, it’s been a lot easier this year.”
Coming out of Michigan Tech in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (NCAA hockey), where they play only on weekends, Roy had some trouble adjusting to the more demanding schedule in the AHL.
“It’s just the routine,” he observed. “You play some Wednesday games, some Monday games. different kinds of practices. There’s a different kind of routine that you’ve got to get used to.”
Difficulties in adjusting to the more rigorous schedule in the AHL might’ve been the cause of Roy’s problems in his first professional season. But they don’t indicate how badly Roy struggled.
“When he first came to us, he struggled,” said Stothers. “He struggled mightily. He always had two hands on his stick. He was a wide-based guy. He had a hard time containing guys down low. He had a hard time ending plays behind our net and below the goal line.”
A little more than one season later, Roy’s struggles are behind him, for the most part.
“It’s just a matter of working with him and him getting some experience,” Stothers observed. “He’s got a quiet game. Nobody talks about Matt Roy. Nobody notices him because he does everything right and that’s the thing of beauty about him. He’s not the kind of guy who people would say, ‘Oh! He’s such a wonderful hockey player.’ But when he’s off? Everybody wants to trade him or have him sit out because he’s one extreme or the other. That’s not Matt Roy.”
As Stothers alluded to, Roy’s adjustments since last season have certainly paid off for him this year.
“It’s kind of interesting because all of these forwards are so fast,” he said. “Being a more defensive-minded guy, the thing I focus on is tight gaps and being up in the play more. That makes it easier to keep up with these fast players and it makes our transition game a little easier.”
“Guys are faster and more skilled here,” he added. “Last year, assistant coach David Bell brought it up to me and I started focusing on it more and that it was helping me, so I started doing it ever since.”
Despite the fact that Roy is trying to be a little more aggressive on the offensive side of the puck, he remains a defensive-minded defenseman.
“Matt Roy is just your prototypical defenseman,” said Stothers. “It’s like, ‘did he play tonight? He was even or +1. He ended plays, stepped up on guys, moved the puck. He’s consistent and he just plays.”
“He’s a solid, old-school defenseman, yet he has an offensive upside,” added Stothers. “He’s just not leading the team in rushes. He doesn’t have the big celebrations. He’s got a big, heavy shot and he’s got quite a few points for us this year. He’s doing well on the power play. But it’s almost like nobody notices and that’s a good thing. The people who know hockey—they know what he’s doing. He’s close. What he’s been doing—he’s consistent. He’s detailed. He prepares really, really well. If he keeps going in that vein, he’s going to get his chance and when he gets it, I think he’s going to seize that opportunity. He’s a good fit. He can play with anybody.”
“I’m trying to be as simple as possible,” said Roy. “I’m not a flashy guy, or anything. I’m a stay-at-home defenseman. I just try to move the puck to the forwards as quickly as I can.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Matt Roy (left), shown here with goaltender prospect Cal Petersen during a recent Ontario Reign practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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