The Toronto Maple Leafs inked 21-year-old center and cornerstone Auston Matthews to a new contract on Feb. 5, a five-year, signing bonus-laden deal for $58.17 million that comes with an average annual cap hit of $11.634 million.
Being the second-highest paid NHL player, behind the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, and now being able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto, aren’t the only cool things about Matthews. Here are seven others.
1. His Parents Fell in Love at First Flight
Matthews’s mother, Ema, was a flight attendant from Hermosillo, Mexico when she met Brian Matthews, who was working for an airline in Los Angeles. The only language they shared at the time was that of love, but he quickly brushed up on his Spanish and the two eventually settled in San Francisco, where Auston was born after older sister Alexandria.
The family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona when Auston was two months old and now live near TPC Scottsdale, the home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Auston’s younger sister, Breyana, is one of the top teenage golfers in the state.
2. He Was a Catalyst for Youth Hockey in Pheonix
A dream child of commissioner Gary Bettman’s southern expansion, Matthews went to his first Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes game with his father and uncle Billy at the age of two and started playing four years later.
He learned the game at now-shuttered Ozzie Ice, a facility that was the showcase of oil magnate Dwayne Osadchuk’s new synthetic ice technology. The two rinks weren’t much bigger than the proverbial phone booth he can now stickhandle in, and all games were three-on-three.
The non-traditional apprenticeship didn’t hinder his growth. At 15, Matthews had 55 goals and 100 points in 48 games for the AAA Arizona Bobcats before becoming the U.S. National Team Development Program’s first player from Arizona. In 2014-15, he scored 55 goals and 117 points to break the program record set by Patrick Kane in 2005-06.
3. He Learned With Blades From Behind the Iron Curtain, via Mexico
Boris Dorozhenko fled Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union and found himself in Mexico, helping build a fledgling national hockey program. He met Brian Matthews at a hockey camp in Arizona when Auston was seven, the two speaking Spanish to communicate. Eventually, Dorozhenko left Mexico and moved in with Brian’s parents in Arizona while coaching a team run by ex-NHL player Claude Lemieux.
Dorozhenko’s unorthodox power-skating drills included running, stomping and spinning. Arena operators hated it and parents were confused, but the results with his young pupil spoke for themselves. They traveled to international tournaments together, with Auston occasionally playing for Ukrainian teams at Boris’ behest.
4. He Was Little Papi
Brian was a pitcher at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and hoped Auston would head down the same basepath as he and his father. Auston’s nickname is “Papi,” after David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, his favourite baseball player growing up and the inspiration for wearing No. 34. Even though his father thought he was better at baseball, the sport was too slow for Auston and he chose to focus on hockey.
“I was really into baseball because my dad and grandpop played it growing up,” said Matthews before being drafted first overall in 2016. “I really enjoyed hitting the most, and that was really my strong suit. I enjoyed catching as well. It’s kind of different because usually in hockey it’s dad who takes you to the pond, but it’s a little different coming from Arizona. My dad (Brian) played baseball in college. I did enjoy baseball, and it was certainly something I liked to play, but hockey would become my No. 1 passion.”
Football also ran in the family; Auston’s great-grandfather coached at Muskogee Central High School in Oklahoma and his uncle, Wes, played four games at wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins after getting a deferment from the Vietnam War to join the team.
5. He Was Also a Swiss Mister
While the vast majority of North American prospects end up at college or major junior hockey programs, Matthews took his talents to Switzerland to play for ZSC Lions of the National League A, where Stanley Cup-winning coach Marc Crawford was at the helm.
Just two days shy of 2015 draft eligibility, Matthews chose to play the 2015-16 season with men in Europe instead of with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, who owned his rights. With his older sister and mom in Zurich cooking him his favourite chicken tortilla soup, he had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games for ZSC, the highest in league history for a player under the age of 20. He won the league’s “Rising Star” honor and finished second in MVP voting.
6. He’s a Dedicated Follower of Fashion
Matthews picked up an eye for fashion in Switzerland and counts actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, his favourite NBA team, as style influences.
His first big purchase as a professional athlete was a Rolex Submariner and his favourite brands are Gucci, Off-White, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton. For fragrances, he goes with Saint Laurent or Tom Ford. The high-end shops on Toronto’s Mink Mile might want to stay open a little later for him now that’s he’s signed a lucrative extension.
7. He’s Toronto’s New Bringer of Rain
Matthews set a record with four goals in his NHL debut and hasn’t really taken his foot off the gas. Since entering the league, he’s first in five-on-five goals and only Alexander Ovechkin has more goals per game (with a minimum of 100 games played).
Matthews ended the Maple Leafs’ Calder Trophy dry spell in 2017, which stretched back to Brit Selby in 1966, and has the potential to win the team’s first Hart Trophy since Ted Kennedy in 1955.
Now that Leafs Nation can stop worrying about Matthews decamping for the Arizona desert and the warm comforts of home for the next five years, they can spend time dreaming of him ending that other team drought. You know, the one that started in 1967.