Stu Cowan: Mike Matheson appeared destined for the NHL at 15: midget coach

Jon Goyens coached the Canadiens defenceman for two years with the Lac St. Louis Lions and now watches him as an analyst for TSN 690 Radio.

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Jon Goyens quickly realized Mike Matheson was a special player when he coached him with the midget Triple-A Lac St. Louis Lions on Montreal’s West Island.

Matheson’s skating ability and skill level were obvious to anyone who watched him, but Goyens saw something else in the defenceman when he joined the Lions as a 15-year-old.

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“He had a lot of F-you in his game — like a lot!” Goyens recalled on Monday.

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Goyens said Matheson’s compete level and work ethic established a standard for the Lions during his two seasons playing for the team.

During his second season in 2010-11, Matheson was named captain and helped lead the Lions to the provincial championship, posting 14-24-38 totals in 35 regular-season games and 7-18-25 totals in 15 playoff games. The Lions ended up winning a bronze medal at the Telus Cup national midget championship with a team that included three future NHLers: Matheson, Jonathan Drouin and Anthony Duclair. Goyens said Matheson was the best defenceman in the Quebec league.

There were many games when Matheson could play more than 30 minutes because of his exceptional fitness level. Goyens recalled Matheson doing 27 chin-ups as a 15-year-old during team fitness testing, as well as 86 pushups and “90-something” sit-ups during a small time frame. During his first season with the Lions, Goyens used Matheson both as a defenceman and a forward.

“He was beyond just a hockey player,” Goyens said. “He was an athlete.”

Matheson’s father, Rod, wouldn’t let him play summer hockey as a youngster, wanting him to instead have fun outdoors at the pool or the park. Matheson played soccer and football during the summer and was named the offensive MVP as a running back with the mosquito Triple-A Lakeshore Cougars in 2005.

After graduating from the Lions, Matheson played one season in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and three seasons at Boston College before making his NHL debut in 2016 with the Florida Panthers, who selected him in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2012 draft.

Now in his ninth NHL season, and his second with the Canadiens, Matheson’s game is really starting to flourish at age 29. He has already set a career high in points with 7-34-41 totals in 55 games to rank third in team scoring behind Nick Suzuki (20-33-53) and Cole Caufield (19-26-45) while averaging a team-high 25:24 of ice time, which ranks fifth in the NHL.

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Goyens is getting a close-up view of Matheson’s performance this season as a new radio analyst for Canadiens games on TSN 690 Radio, along with fellow analyst J.P. O’Connor and play-by-play announcer Victor Findlay.

Goyens left the Lions following the 2018-19 season after 11 years as head coach to become head coach of the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar. He coached the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Eagles last season, leading them to the playoffs for the first time in three years before losing in the first round. Goyens and the team mutually agreed to part ways last summer.

The 45-year-old Goyens wants to get back into coaching, but isn’t chasing a job. He’s keeping busy with his TSN 690 gig and is also part of the weekly Coaches Room Show on the Daily Faceoff website, as well as working as a consultant for Montreal-based analytics company Sportlogiq and the Piiva mental-performance app for athletes.

“He was a coach that I learned a lot from,” Matheson said about playing for Goyens with the Lions. “He did a really great job of coaching the individuals as well as the team. We spent a lot of hours in his office watching game tape together. He’d send me stuff that I was doing and game stuff of guys in the NHL to watch what they were doing to try and help my game.”

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Goyens said it’s “awesome” now that he gets to work as a radio analyst while watching Matheson playing for the Canadiens.

“It is very neat because there’s elements of his game that allow me to almost sound prophetic at times,” Goyens said. “I know him so well — we’ve still worked together during the off-seasons — I kind of know what he’s thinking a little bit. Not at all times, but it allows me to break down stuff. There’s also a sense of pride and it’s cool because it’s happening in both of our home towns.

“Mikey still today is a player of great intention,” Goyens added. “He’s a player whose great intentions are all about the team, nothing about his own stats or any of that type of stuff.”

Early in his midget career, Goyens said Matheson would be very hard on himself if he made even the smallest mistake. Goyens added that Matheson now has “instant amnesia,” which is important for a defenceman and allows him to quickly forget about a mistake, a bad shift or a bad game.

“He doesn’t compound his mistakes,” Goyens said. “Now all that skill, all that preparation, all that compete, all those hockey smarts are coming to fruition and he’s more spatially aware and game aware than ever before. Everything has been enhanced.”

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