It took Kiel Matisz a while to develop in junior lacrosse. He scored 42, 41 then 70 points. Then in his final year he lit up the league for 108 points including 59 goals and was the OLA’s Most Valuable Player. Playing 13 games with the Brooklin Redmen of Major Series Lacrosse in 2010, Matisz scored just nine points, then in his first actual senior year in 2011 he posted decent totals of 15 goals and 36 points in 14 games. His third year, though, was when he really asserted himself, scoring 40 points in 12 games and forcing teams to shift some of their defensive attention away from Shawn Williams and Derek Hopcroft. Now Matisz is hoping the third time’s the charm and he can make faster progress as he kicks off his National Lacrosse League career with the Minnesota Swarm, who chose him third overall in the draft this year.
“My first year I was just trying to find a way to fit and find a role,” he says of his play in Brooklin. “Towards the end of last year I’d already found my role and I was looking to expand upon it. Hopefully the same thing goes for here in Minnesota in that I’m looking to expand my role a bit. The guys in Minnesota have really welcomed me and made me feel comfortable where I can expand quickly and make that growth a little bit quicker than over the last two or three years in the summer. Hopefully my game grows a little quicker in the NLL for sure.”
One thing slowing him down a bit right now is a knee that he tweaked when he went for a 25-kilometre (15-mile) run a couple of weeks before training camp. The way the team has treated him, though, has provided the unexpected benefit from the sore knee of making him feel comfortable with the Swarm right away.
“Everyone’s kind of welcomed me with open arms and made me feel real at home and real comfortable with the situation,” Matisz says of his first weekend of camp with Minnesota. “The coaches and the players were really supportive of me and were worried about my health for myself first and foremost, as opposed to trying to rush me and get me on the floor and trying to make me prove myself. They were more interested in making sure I get better.”
Joe Sullivan has talked about how confident the Swarm are that Matisz can deliver in a variety of situations in the NLL and the big right-handed rookie echoes his coaches’ thoughts. “I think Coach Sullivan has done a pretty good job of making it clear what he wants from me. He understands that I can bring a lot to the table and he expects me to bring all of that to the table in certain aspects, depending on what the situation of the game is. He knows that I like to consider myself a pretty athletic guy and I can get up and down the floor, too.
“He expects me to play a predominantly offensive role but at the same time trying to stop transition if we do turn the ball over in the offensive end. But at times in the game we may need some fresh legs on defence, and I can start in the defensive end and transition to the offensive end. The coaches think that I’ll complement Callum Crawford on the right side. We’re both two big athletic guys. So hopefully we can work together well and produce on offence.”
Matisz admits that when he showed up to rookie and free agent camp last Thursday, he pushed things even though his knee was sore. It was a classic rookie move, wanting to get out on the floor and prove himself and not be seen to be complaining about a physical issue. Luckily for him, the coaches noticed him with ice on his knee after practice, asked what was wrong and counselled him to focus on getting healthy rather than pushing things in camp.
That showed him they care about his long-term prospects more than seeing him prove himself at camp. Of course, that’s a luxury a high pick enjoys that players picked later in the draft may not. “They said they’ve watched me, they’ve had an opportunity to see me play for a couple of years now and they know what I bring to the table,” he says. “Obviously you still have to go into training camp and prove that you’re worthy but at the same time they kind of have a better judgment of what I’ve done so far.”
Matisz touches upon comfort frequently, showing that feeling like he’s found his place and his role is important for him to perform up to his capabilities. So it has to be music to the Swarm’s ears that the team is already starting to feel like family to him. “I’m actually more comfortable than I thought I would be. Everyone’s kind of welcomed me with open arms and made me feel real at home and real comfortable with the situation. It’s a comfortable situation, they’re a great bunch of guys and a great coaching staff and I couldn’t ask for a better situation to walk into.”
Minnesota is hoping that comfort level on Matisz’ part will help them settle comfortably into a regular spot near the top of the NLL standings and contending for Champions Cup titles for years to come.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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