Stu Cowan: Canadiens' Mike Matheson hasn't slowed down as he turns 30

“It’s kind of bizarre that the 20s went by so fast,” he says about birthday. “Guys were joking that I’m going to start waking up sore.”

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Mike Matheson celebrated a milestone birthday Tuesday.

The Canadiens defenceman turned 30 — which can be a negative milestone for a professional athlete, meaning they’re reaching the downside of their career.

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“It’s kind of bizarre that the 20s went by so fast,” Matheson said after the Canadiens’ morning skate Tuesday at the Bell Centre before facing the Arizona Coyotes. “Guys were joking that I’m going to start waking up sore and stuff like that.

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“We’ll see,” he added with a laugh.

The Pointe-Claire native becomes the sixth player on the rebuilding Canadiens in their 30s, joining Jake Allen (33), David Savard (33), Brendan Gallagher (31), Tanner Pearson (31) and Joel Armia (30).

Matheson is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, he has already set a career-high in points this season with 8-35-43 totals while playing in all 58 games before facing the Coyotes to rank third in team scoring behind Nick Suzuki (22-33-55) and Cole Caufield (19-27-46). Through Monday’s games, Matheson ranked 11th among NHL defencemen in scoring and ranked sixth overall in the NHL in ice time with an average of 25:24 per game.

Matheson has two more seasons remaining on his contract with a salary-cap hit of US$4.875 million, which looks like a bargain. There are 61 defencemen in the NHL this season with a higher salary-cap hit than him.

The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Matheson says he has more energy now than he did during his first full season in the NHL in 2016-17 with the Florida Panthers, who selected him in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2012 draft.

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“I feel like when I was younger you need so much sleep to feel good and it’s hard to do that during the season with the schedule and all that,” he said. “I feel like I have more energy with a little bit less sleep sometimes, which is huge. I don’t feel like I’m chasing it all the time, which I did when I was younger.”

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Matheson celebrated his birthday Monday night by going out for dinner with his wife, Emily, and their 2-year-old son, Hudson.

“It was a lot of fun to be able to do that and be at home for my birthday,” he said. “Today, dropped the little guy off at daycare and now go pick him up.”

Matheson had an early birthday gift on Sunday when he was able to bring Hudson on the ice with him before the start of the Canadiens’ annual Skills Competition. Hudson showed that he has already inherited skating skills from his parents. Emily was a defenceman for the U.S. women’s team that beat Canada in the gold-medal game at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.

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One of the highlights Sunday was when Hudson was standing in front of an open net, taking passes from his father and some of his teammates before banging in the pucks as the crowd cheered.

“That was so much fun,” Matheson said. “Especially with the crowd cheering for him … that was so cool. They made it extra special for him. Just another one of those reasons that it’s just very special to be playing here at home and interacting with the fans. They’re truly the best in the league because of stuff like that.”

There was a really cute scene before a recent game at the Bell Centre when an elevator door near the ice-level media room opened and out ran Hudson wearing his little Canadiens sweater with No. 8 and “Daddy” on the back while carrying a little stick and saying “hockey!” with his mother following closely behind as they headed to the family room.

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“It’s funny to think of a 2-year-old having a passion, but that’s his passion. My wife and I kind of joke that everybody’s going to look at us and be like: ‘Oh, you really forced your kid to do that one,’” Matheson said about the bringing Hudson on the ice Sunday. “And we really haven’t. We try to force him to do other things so that he broadens his interests a little bit. But he’ll wake up from a nap and he’ll turn over and the first thing is a question about hockey and you can tell he was dreaming about it. It’s wild. He loves it.”

Matheson is a great role model — both on and off the ice — for the young Canadiens defenceman and is also a respected leader in the locker room, wearing an “A” on his sweater as an assistant captain for a reason. He’s someone 24-year-old captain Suzuki and other young players can lean on.

What’s Matheson’s best piece of advice for the young players so they can still be going strong when they turn 30?

“I think just take care of your body,” he said. “I think that’s something I’ve always really focused on is making sure that I do the right things to prepare and then to cool down and keep my body ready 365 days a year. It can be tiring, but I think it pays off in the end.”

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