November 29, 2012

Matthews' Arrival Just in Time for Rush Hour?

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Mark Matthews will wear jersey number 42 with the Edmonton Rush to fulfill a promise he made to college friend Tyler Bozak, who wore the same number when he made his debut with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.
© Dale Macmillan

Mark Matthews wanted to set the record straight about his weight.

In the week after the Edmonton Rush made him the No. 1 pick in the National Lacrosse League entry draft Oct. 1, various biographical sketches and media reports surfaced that had him anywhere from 210 to 230 pounds.

So how much do you really weigh, Mark?

"Two-thirty," he joked. "And that's all muscle."

And what about that 6-foot-4 body of yours?

"I'm close to 6-5 now," he said. "Still growing, I guess."

Matthews, the all-time leading scorer at the University of Denver who led the Pioneers to the NCAA final four in 2011, hopes to expand that physique to prepare for the rigors of his first NLL season. Big is in. Look no further than the two rookies the Minnesota Swarm picked after Matthews in the draft: 6-foot-6, 220-pound Brock Sorenson and 6-foot-5, 220-pound Kiel Matisz. To do his part, Matthews spent the fall training three times a week with Brad Chalmers of the Elite Performance Centre in his home city of Oshawa, Ontario before relocating to Alberta's capital for the winter.

Matthews' physical development will loom large for the Rush, a team that made it all the way to the Champion's Cup final despite a 6-10 season in 2012. He will wear jersey number 42 with Edmonton to fulfill a promise he made to college friend Tyler Bozak, who wore the same number when he made his debut with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We joked at school about how one day we'd both wear it in the pros," Matthews said.

Matthews learned to play box lacrosse growing up in Oshawa and was an offensive force by the time he made it to the junior ranks. He went to British Columbia, helped the Coquitlam Adanacs win the 2010 Canadian junior championship and returned home to help the Whitby Warriors win the 2011 national title. He was the tournament's leading scorer both times.

Matthews added field lacrosse to his repertoire at Denver. An All-American attackman, he set school records with 155 goals and 216 points in 65 games over four years. He turned pro with the Denver Outlaws of Major Lacrosse League and scored 19 goals in nine games as a rookie.

"He sees the field extremely well and can find the open man," Outlaws coach Jim Stagnitta said. "He is terrific in tight space and extremely creative. He is much more competitive than he leads on. While his demeanor is laid back, when he is challenged or in a competitive situation, he responds."

Matthews enjoyed the MLL experience and said it positioned him well for success in the NLL.

"It was great to play with the pro guys, who are bigger and stronger players," he said.
"After a summer with them, I feel I'm ready to play at the higher indoor level."

It's not all new to Matthews. He will find familiar faces on the floor around him when Edmonton opens the 2013 season Jan. 13 at home against the Toronto Rock. Matthews, fellow rookie Curtis Knight, who was drafted eighth overall, and incumbent Rush defender John LaFontaine played together on Whitby's championship team that was coached by Rush general manager and coach Derek Keenan.

"It's great to be back with those guys," Matthews said. "They're great players, and they're friends of mine off the floor."

Matthews' numbers in his most recent season of indoor lacrosse are staggering: In 27 games (including playoffs) for the Warriors, he had 59 goals and 71 assists. Edmonton was the NLL's lowest-scoring team in in 2012.

Keenan, also from Oshawa, first saw Matthews play on peewee teams for 11- and 12-year-olds.

"He was kind of an awkward kid, he was so tall," Keenan said. "The first time I saw him play as a young adult was in a Junior B playoff game. It really struck me at that time that he was going to be a special player."

Keenan sounded just as impressed with Matthews' attitude as with his physical lacrosse talents.

"Hopefully it's comforting for him to know he doesn't have to be the savior of this team."

— Rush general manager and coach Derek Keenan

"He's a real good kid. He's fun-loving, a jokester. He likes the practical jokes," Keenan said. "At the same time, he's real coachable. He's accountable. He likes to have fun, but when it comes to playing the game, he's pretty serious about it."

And you can't teach size.

"He's a big wide-shouldered kid with all the physical tools. Then you combine that with skill," Keenan said. "Not everybody that tall and strong shoots the ball so hard and also is a good passer. He has the ability to break down defenses and make everyone around him better through his playmaking ability."

Zack Greer and Corey Small already gave the Rush a formidable left side. Matthews just makes them that much better.

"Hopefully it's comforting for him to know he doesn't have to be the savior of this team," Keenan said.

Keenan got Davis, a third-year pro and excellent playmaker, from Rochester for Paul Rabil, who had refused to play for the Rush after being acquired from Washington last season.

Edmonton was 6-10 before its two surprising playoff wins. Getting to the title game was a breakthrough, but questions remain on the Rush's ability to sustain that success. Since its 2006 debut, Edmonton has had just one winning season: a 10-6 campaign in 2010 that ended with a loss in the Western Division final. The team has struggled especially on the road, going 3-13 over the last two seasons.

Maybe Matthews will be lightning in a bottle. He's especially looking forward to a Feb. 16 game at Colorado.

"Three quarters of my friends in college are still in school or living in Colorado," he said. "To have those guys and old coaches and teammates at that game will be special."

Edmonton plays just three games in the East this season: March 16 at Rochester, March 23 at Buffalo and March 24 at Toronto.

"That whole stretch of games will be special," Matthews said. "Hopefully some of my friends and family will be able to make it out from Oshawa."

He might even be 6-5 by then.

A version of this article appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.


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