If you happen to be at the World Junior Championship in a couple years and hear a player on Team USA trash-talking a Canadian opponent in French, don’t be too surprised.
Despite his name and family history, left winger Stefan Matteau – son of ex-NHLer Stephane Matteau – will be joining the U.S. national team development program next year and his play with the Notre Dame Hounds this season indicates he’s going to be one to watch.
“He’s a big, strong power forward who moves well,” said Notre Dame coach Del Pedrick. “He has good on-ice awareness. It’s almost like he slows the game down in his mind.”
The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Matteau had 12 points in 13 playoff games as the midget AAA Hounds repeated as Saskatchewan provincial champs, which came on the heels of a regular season where the rookie tallied 37 points (including four shorthanded goals) in 40 contests.
As the son of an NHLer, Matteau grew up all over the place. The youngster was born in Chicago and has also lived in New York, St. Louis and Canada (hence the dual citizenship he possesses). But one place in particular holds a place in his heart.
“San Jose,” Matteau revealed. “We were there for five or six years, so it was mostly home for me. That was a tough move.”
But Matteau hasn’t stopped moving. In order to develop himself at the highest level possible, he took up with the Hounds in Wilcox, Sask., a town that is basically the Notre Dame school and not much else. That isolation worked wonders for him.
“When you’re not home,” Matteau noted, “you have no choice but to mature.”
Of course, he’s not the only Francophone on the team, which does help matters a bit. His linemate this year was Yannick Laflamme, a Quebec native who’s one year older and can put up just as much offense.
“He’s my centerman and it’s really fun to have him here,” Matteau said. “It’s nice to bring back some of the culture. We speak French to each other on the ice.”
Joining the NTDP, Matteau will have a chance to shine on an even bigger stage, since the members of the program play both internationally and against competition from the United States League and NCAA schools. The fact Matteau has a big frame will suit him well in Ann Arbor.
“I use my size very well and bring good energy to my teammates,” he said. “I have confidence with the puck.”
While the 16-year-old would like to improve on his explosiveness and first three skating strides, his coach sees a player with a great future, especially since Matteau has been willing to put in work off the ice in order to succeed on it.
“He’s very keen,” Pedrick said. “He’s a pretty positive student model in our dorms and classrooms, he watches a lot of video; it’s just a recipe for a successful hockey player.”
The fact Matteau grew up hanging around his father at NHL rinks has also given him a leg-up in understanding what it means to be a professional hockey player and the elder Matteau, for his part, has been very supportive of his son.
Stefan has a collection of more than 50 autographed hockey sticks thanks to his inside access as a child, including two from Wayne Gretzky and one from Mario Lemieux. Now that he’s approaching the serious point in his development, the younger Matteau sees how lucky he was as a kid.
“I was always in the dressing room, it was my life, too,” he said. “Now I realize how amazing it was.”
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every second Thursday throughout the season.
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