By: Justin Dunk
It didn’t take long for Matt Hotchkiss to score his first goal in the Ontario Hockey League.
Guelph was tied 1-1 with Windsor on Sunday, September 28 and there was less than eight minutes left in regulation. Hotchkiss found the back of the net for his first goal in major junior hockey. It was a marker that proved to be the game-winner in a 2-1 Storm victory.
In the heat of the game, Hotchkiss didn’t even think about it being his first career goal. He just wanted to get his team the lead any way possible. After he got back to the dressing room and thought about what he had accomplished, it sunk in.
“Once I had a second I realized that I scored not in minor midget, but in the OHL,” Guelph’s rookie forward said.
“It was fun to be able to celebrate with my team and help us get the win that night. It was nice to have a meaningful goal and not a goal where we’re losing and it doesn’t really matter. Or where we’re winning by a lot and it didn’t make a difference.”
Hotchkiss became the fastest first-year Storm player to net his first goal since 2006-07. No. 23 took a little time to reflect and be happy about his accomplishment, but after that he turned his focus towards getting the next one.
Storm general manager Mike Kelly believes players come into the league looking for that first goal to settle in. But he said it’s the job of managers and coaches to let young men know that offensively they don’t have to contribute that much early on in their OHL career.
“What they have to do is play real well defensively and not be scored on in that first year or year and a half that they’re in the league, and allow the offensive part of their game to evolve,” Kelly explained. “If they can do the things defensively you can keep them on the ice and they can gain valuable experience. If they can’t do the job defensively then it’s tough to trust them and they don’t get as much ice time as we’d like and development stalls for a little while.”
Guelph’s 2014 first round draft pick – 20th overall – has been focused on employing a well-rounded game. He’s seen consistent playing time early in his OHL career with a Storm organization he had hoped to get selected by.
“I thought I was going to end up here and I was really hoping it was going to be Guelph that picked me,” Hotchkiss said.
“I heard a lot of great things about the coaching staff. And also the way the organization is run and the way it tries to build players as community members as well as hockey players.”
Kelly said Hotchkiss has done everything the team expected so far. Guelph’s head coach Scott Walker and the staff will tell you the 16-year-old is like a sponge. Anything that’s thrown at him he absorbs and works to add it to his game. One he patterns after a National Hockey League star.
“I always tried to go out of my way to watch Eric Staal’s games because a lot of people said I played like him,” Hotchkiss said. “He’s at where I want to be someday.”
“He’s a bigger guy and growing up I was always a lot bigger than everyone else. And he still manages to be a goal scorer and that was something I always wanted to be as well. I didn’t want to be a big guy who’s just a hitter. I wanted to be able to score goals and make plays.”
Kelly agreed with the Hotchkiss-Staal comparison. Guelph’s GM said there skating style is comparable, pretty upright, chest straight and head up. And he added both have a good sense of where everybody is on the ice at all times.
“Obviously Staal got himself to the point where he was taken second in the NHL Draft and has been an NHL All-Star, but I can see at 16 years of age some similarities between the two,” Kelly said.
The coaching staff and management team in Guelph expect Hotchkiss to develop into a top-line forward by the time he’s 18 year of age. And if he ever gets to Staal’s level it would be a dream come true for Guelph’s ascending forward.