Heading in to the 2013 season, the Florida Panthers and their fans strongly believed that rookie Jonathan Huberdeau would garner the team the national attention that it had been lacking throughout the past decade. While Huberdeau has been a revelation for the team throughout the year, it has been the play of another Panther that has earned the team the most national attention – center Shawn Matthias.
Coming to the Panthers via trade with the Detroit Red Wings for Todd Bertuzzi, the 25 year-old Matthias is now the longest tenured active skater on the Panthers roster after surgery ended Stephen Weiss’ season. While his statistics this season may look pedestrian – 10 points (8G 2A) in 28 games – it has been his spectacular goals and intense play that have put both him and Panthers under the watchful eye of the national media.
Matthias’ magical run to relevance all started on March 5th against the Winnipeg Jets. Matthias took the puck straight up the ice and cut past the defender with an astounding deke to leave himself in great position to send the puck over the shoulder of Jets’ goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
This goal immediately gained steam on social media sites as it was crowned as not only the goal of the night, but one of the best of the year. However, talk of this amazing goal was not limited just to hockey circles. In an amazing turn, ESPN made the Matthias’ goal it’s top play for that night – a place usually reserved for Blake Griffin dunks and plays from other major sports. A hockey play cracking a traditionally hockey-less ESPN network is a true testament to the reach of this play.
After that goal, a player liker Matthias could have easily rested on his laurels and gone throughout the rest of his career without ever approaching such greatness again.
Surprisingly, that wouldn’t be the case as Matthias topped his own crowning achievement only 9 days later against the Boston Bruins. An arrant pass at center ice led Matthias charging down the ice with Bruins’ rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton right beside him – a play that Hamilton would soon regret. As the two tumbled to the ground a midst a furious battle, it was Shawn Matthias that arose and carried the puck to the net to finish off the shorthanded scoring play on a nifty backhander past Tuukaa Rask. To add insult to injury, Matthias’ spectacular goal was the first shorthanded goal that the Bruins had allowed all season.
Once again Shawn Matthias had done something to spark a media frenzy as numerous fans and media shared the video and opinions on his exploits from the night. Sadly, even though this goal was possibly even more amazing than his previous one, the powers that be at ESPN could only be persuaded to name it the 2nd best play of the night. However, even though he didn’t receive their top honor, Matthias still did the unthinkable – he brought the Panthers national attention.
With the Panthers already looking as if they are a bigger threat for a high draft selection rather than a playoff spot, Shawn Matthias has done the team a huge favor for both himself and the team. Headed for restricted free agency this offseason, both his recent play and his highlight reel goals should earn Matthias a nice raise on his next contract. The Panthers’ benefit from having a young player that even in these troubled times fans will want to tune in to see along with the team’s star, Jonathan Huberdeau.
It’s amazing that within a span of 9 days, average hockey fans went from asking “who is Shawn Matthias?” to “what will Shawn Matthias do tonight!?”