He may be only 17 years old, but goalie Matthew Thiessen is both wise and skilled beyond his years.
Having recently announced his commitment to the University of Maine, Thiessen took some time to look back over his hockey career. Where it started, how he got to where he is today and where he plans on going in the future.
"The first time I ever skated was in Lynn Lake, Manitoba. Way up north, about 3 hours north of Thompson." Thiessen explained. "That was the first time I put on the skates and after that, I move to Altona where I played minor hockey. At around 10 or 11 I decided I wanted to be a goalie and it all kinda went from there."
It's almost fate that Thiessen would become a goaltender. "The first time I skated in Lynn Lake, I was the youngest neighbour kid, so I kinda got thrown in net. A few years later, I decided I wanted to try the position and just kinda fell in love with it."
The memories of growing up in Altona remain special to Thiessen. "It was really great with all my friends in school. I think it was grade 1 when I got there. I was nervous when I first arrived, but after that, I fell in love with Altona. It was competitive too with hockey, with Winkler and Morden around there. It was loads of fun growing up there."
A breakthrough experience happened in Altona, strapping on the goalie pads for the first time. Something Thiessen and his father will never forget. "The first time I went out there, I wasn't too sure what I was doing, I was just trying to stop the puck but I wasn't sure exactly how. I remember the pads were put on the wrong way for the first ever time. My dad didn't quite know how to put them on yet, but after a couple of years we got more used to it and now it's a lot easier to put the pads on the right way."
It's brought up between father and son with the younger Thiessen getting the last laugh. "We laugh at it all the time. It's like 'Oh wow, good one dad'. We love it."
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Thiessen ready for a shot while playing for the Pembina Valley Hawks.
Once the pads were strapped on the right way, he continued down the road that would eventually lead him to Steinbach. "I started minor hockey in Altona, I played my first year of Bantam hockey there and then I joined the Pembina Valley Hawks for my second year of Bantam. After that year was when I was drafted by the Pistons. The year following that, I played midget hockey for the Pembina Valley Hawks, finally last year with RHA Nationals (Rink Hockey Academy) and this year, for the Pistons."
Growing up in a smaller area, Thiessen fondly remembers wanting to pull on a Pembina Valley Hawks jersey. "You always looked up to those players cause they were older. You knew that's where you wanted to get. I was pumped when I got the opportunity to make the team. The coaches were great and I really enjoyed being a Hawk."
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League draft was another special moment for Thiessen and his dad although it didn't go smoothly at first but it couldn't have ended better for the Thiessen family. "I remember me and my dad were trying to watch the draft at home, but it didn't work. We had to go to his work to watch it. I wasn't exactly sure if I was going to be drafted. I was watching my friends get drafted and people I knew or played against. When I heard my name called by the Pistons, I was very excited cause my grandparents were there."
After being drafted by the Pistons, Thiessen began thinking that being a goaltender could be something he does for years to come. "It clicked in more but you still always wonder if it's going to be there and if you're going to keep growing into the goalie that you are. I knew the hard work wasn't done, I knew it was just starting."
Confidence for any young player is key, especially when it comes from outside the family members. It holds a little more impact and hearing that people like Paul Dyck and the coaches he grew up with really believed in him, fueled the motivation of Thiessen. "Once you hear that, you want to be at that level. You want to exceed and excel past that. You work really hard to get past that level people helped you get to."
By the numbers, the midget year for the Pembina Valley Hawks might look like a step back for Thiessen. But he views it as a giant step forward. "We didn't have the strongest team, I only had two wins that year. I had a lot of shots though, which actually helped a lot. It helped me to develop. I didn't mind it at all, I loved it actually. The year didn't end up the way we wanted but for my development, it was great."
Matthew Thiessen had a Goals Against Average of 5.07 with Pembina Valley and it dropped dramatically after joining RHA where he cut it down to 2.88. "I think with RHA and with all the development opportunities we had there, having a goalie coach two or three times a week, it really helped me a lot," Thiessen said. "Also, I grew a little bit. I started, not working out more but better techniques and the right way to work out, so I gained more confidence through that. I was able to carry it over and it really helped in my numbers."
Listed at 6"2 and 191 lbs, Thiessen learned early that it be different training as a goalie. "I work on core stability and balance. Also, just basic leg power and getting stronger. I went to a camp this past summer that worked on specific goalie workouts like with exercise balls and different core work. Yoga work to make you more flexible. It's stuff I really enjoy doing."
His first Manitoba Junior Hockey League game came in the 2016/17 season and Thiessen knows almost everything that happened in that game. "It was in Neepawa and we lost 3-2." Thiessen said still a little irked he didn't get the win that night. "I was a little bit nervous that first time. I remember leading up to that game, I was not sure what it was going to be like. But, the guys were really great and it helped me get ready for this year too."
Now, calling Steinbach home for his first full year of junior hockey, Thiessen credits family as the main reason he hasn't really stopped smiling. "Having my grandparents around has just made it so great already. My billet parents are terrific, coaches Paul and Joey are also great and same with the team. I can't say enough positive things about the Pistons organization."
Thiessen's goalie partner is close friend Matt Radomsky. The two have battled this season and the friendly competition will continue and it's a relationship that Thiessen really cherishes. "He's always been there for me. He's been great. He's a really great guy and I really enjoy having him around."
While there's not a lot of experience in junior hockey between the 17-year-old Thiessen and the 18-year-old Radomsky, the two have found that keeping things light is a good formula for success. "We never focus on the past, we just stay positive. In the dressing room, we'll dance around and keep it loose before games, making sure each other is comfortable."
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Thiessen posing with his silver after the U16 tournament
Making a major commitment like the one to attend Maine was something Thiessen didn't take lightly, but he remembers the moment he knew he wanted to be a Black Bear. "I went on a visit and as soon as I saw the University, my heart just fell in love with it. I knew I wanted to pursue my education there and be with such a storied program. Getting the opportunity to play there, with the history that they have, was something like a dream come true."
Postgame is when players can take a little time to relax, evaluate self-performance or teams performance but not for Thiessen who was one of the most popular players with scouts wanting to talk as soon as he got off the ice. Now that the decision has been made, Thiessen never looked at is a bad thing though, people wanting to talk. "I never minded it, actually. I thought it was cool getting the recognition but it'll be okay that the pressure is off a little. The pressure is off but the hard work is really just beginning."
Thiessen isn't looking too far past this year but knowing he'll be going to Maine either for the 2019/20 season or the 2020/21 season, he's fine either way and would enjoy staying in Steinbach for as long as he can. "It's not set in stone, it's kind of wait and see what the program wants for me. I'd be pumped to stay here into my 20-year-old season."
Personal success is always great but Thiessen knows this is a group of players in Steinbach that can get something special accomplished. "We have a great group of guys. This year, everyone is really bonded together. Guys play their roles and that makes us very successful as a team and we can really do something here this year."
Being the third goalie to commit to Divison 1 schooling from the Pistons organization, Thiessen is still a bit awestruck to be in the conversation with Nick Deery (Universty of Minnesota-Duluth) and Roman Bengert (Lake Superior State University). "It's pretty special. They are great goalies and knowing Roman a bit from last year, he's a great person. I'm super pumped to be in a category with guys like that."
Matthiew Thiessen may be getting a lot of the attention, but he couldn't have done it without amazing support and love from his family. It's something that Thiessen carries with him whether he's on the ice or off. "I want to thank my parents right off the bat. My sister, my parents have always been there to drive me to the rink or support me. They've supported my decisions. My sister who played a little street hockey with, too. My whole family. My friends and coaches from previous years, they've always been there to help me get to the next level. All the support hasn't just helped me as a goalie but helped me as a person."
Thiessen has taken a little time to take a deep breath, smile that well known Matthew Thiessen smile and let it all sink in.
But as he always says, "now the hard work begins."
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Thiessen has been training with GDI through 1v1 Lessons and the G1 Off-Season Program. Matt is also a graduate of the Rink Hockey Academy Nationals.