Recently, we had a chance to catch up with UND alum Nick Mattson about his first year in professional hockey. The Chaska,MN native played for Blackhawks affiliates this year. Mattson started the season with the ECHL Indy Fuel and earned a chance to play with the AHL Rockford IceHogs. Mattson accumulated 22 points in 65 games this regular season across both levels.Before UND Mattson finished his junior career with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. Below are our questions,and his answers.
• How has your first year playing pro hockey gone?
“It was an amazing experience. At the very start it was pretty intimidating. Everything was completely new, and it took awhile to get used to the new people and new lifestyle. Over time I got more and more comfortable and was really able to start to enjoy things. On the ice things went well. I started of the season with the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League and spent the majority of the first half of the year there minus a few short call ups. In the second half I had longer call-ups to Rockford, and finally got a chance to play significant minutes the last chunk of the year and playoffs with Rockford. Once I got an opportunity I felt I played well and was able to contribute.”
• What are some high points for this season?
“The highest point would just be getting the opportunity to play in Rockford and seizing that opportunity. It was a long tough road this year just to get into the position to play in the AHL, so to play well once I finally got a chance felt great. “
• What did you take away from your summer with the Blackhawks last year?
“The biggest takeaway was the realization of how good professional players really are, and the small margin that separates guys from league to league. There were plenty of players I played against this year that I felt were more than good enough to be playing at a higher level, but for whatever reason never got a shot. The difference for a lot of guys really is razor thin in terms of talent level. “
• How have you improved your game in Rockford and Indy this year?
“Without a doubt it would be the mental side of the game. In college you are only playing 2 games per week and around 40 per year. You focus all week on one opponent, so by the time you get to the games it has been hyped up so much that it can sometimes be hard to just relax and play. In pro you have to learn quickly how to play your best in non-ideal situations such as when you have 3 games in 3 days, a 10 am game, are playing hurt, etc. These situations happen so much that I learned quickly how to faze them out and just go out and play, because if I let these things rattle me it would be a very long year. Once you clear all the outside distractions from your mind and play with a clear head, it’s much easier to be consistent and have fun. “
• Once done with playing hockey what do you want to do with your degree?
“Like the majority of hockey players, I’m not 100% on my plans after playing. Ideally I would go to law school and pursue a career in sports management. Another dream would be to start a business with one of my good friends. For now I am just enjoying playing while continuing to think up future plans. “
• What are your thoughts on UND’s recent national championship victory?
“It was absolutely incredible to watch. Going to school at UND, there is such an overwhelming sense of tradition that you want nothing more than to leave your mark and add to that. To be able to win for the town, the school, the fans, and all the alumni is something that is on the players minds everyday. The success of the team just means so much to anyone even remotely connected to the program. To be able to watch some of my best friends accomplish that dream was almost surreal and I was just so happy for all of them. “
• How important was winning the two Elite 89 awards during your time at UND?
“It’s something I’m very proud of. As anyone whose gone to college as a student-athlete can attest, the time demands are often so extreme that many people choose to focus the majority of their time on either strictly school or athletics. It can be really hard to find that balance where you can do well in both areas. Being successful in school and on the ice took a lot of sacrifices and a ton of hard work, so to be recognized for that was pretty cool.”
• Name something Coach Brad Berry taught you that you’re still using (could be on or off ice)
“On the ice, he always was extremely adamant on defenseman getting involved and adding to the teams offense. The way the game is going now, most successful teams have more of a 5 man attack and having defenseman that can contribute offensively is huge. He taught me a ton on the offensive side. Off the ice, he would always go out of his way to spread positive vibes and make people feel appreciated. It may be a little thing, but guys loved playing him for that. He treats people the right way. “
• What was it like scoring your first AHL goal?
“It felt great. As I said before, it was a hard road to even get into the position to be playing. There were plenty of times where I felt like I’d never get a chance, but unlike years previous where I’d get discouraged in these types of situations I was able to press forward and keep fighting. So to be rewarded after going through all that adversity was great. “
• What was it like playing on the same sheet of ice you did when you played for the Indiana Ice?
“It was nice just because it added an immediate level of comfort. Rookie season can be pretty crazy and there were many times I felt way in over my head with so many new things to adjust to. Being able to start the season in a town and arena that I was familiar with was a huge advantage and helped ease the transition. “