Aberdeen Wings netminder with a famous last name coming into his own
Mike Vernon did not necessarily want his son to play goalie growing up.
Matt Vernon found himself pushed toward the position, not by his father, but because of his father, the 1997 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Detroit Red Wings.
“He always said he kind of didn’t really want me to play goalie because there’s so much pressure,” Matt said of Mike, who handled that pressure so well he ranks 15th in National Hockey League history in regular-season wins with 385 in his 19-year career. “But, he was all right either way. He was always supportive of it, never forced me to do anything, never forced me to train. It was kind of all on my own.
“His theory was if I really wanted it that bad, I’d be the one to go out and get it.”
Currently one of the North American Hockey League’s top goalies with the Aberdeen Wings, Matt is happy with the path he took.
“I wanted to be a forward at first,” Matt said. “When I was younger and everybody had to switch between the positions, nobody wanted to play goalie, so just because of who my dad is, I kind of wound up in that position.
“I’m glad I did. I learned to love it pretty quickly.”
Matt had a similar experience with the sport as a whole. At about 6, he was not thrilled with the cold and the time it took to put on all the equipment.
“All my buddies, we all grew up playing it,” Matt said. “It was a great time to play and hang out with my buddies when I was young, then it turned into something else.”
Mike let Matt find his own commitment to more intense training. Wanting more from the sport, Matt picked up his commitment to the game and has been improving ever since. Earlier this month, that hard work paid off when he committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Colorado College.
Matt, a dual citizen who was born in San Jose, California, said he has understood for years that any aspirations of following his father into professional hockey needed to include more development on the collegiate level.
In his first year in the NAHL last season, Matt posted a record of 17-5-0-1 with a 2.01 goals against average and .912 save percentage. He has improved on all those numbers this season.
“Matt has been a workhorse for us here in the first half,” Aberdeen head coach Scott Langer said in a story on the league website last month. “He came into the season in great shape and very driven to prove he is one of the league’s best.”
The numbers certainly support that assertion.
Matt leads the NAHL in wins (27) and games played by a goalie (33), while sitting tied for the league lead in shutouts (5). He is third in save percentage (.936) and fourth in goals against average (1.95).
Now, Matt has the advantage of being able to discuss the mental side of the game with his father. He said the technical side has changed too much for them to spend a lot of time talking about technique.
“He’s a huge help with the mental side, for sure,” Matt said. “With the amount of goalie coaches in today’s game, I’d rather have him as more of a mental coach than as a technical coach.”
As his father hoped, Matt has found his own way into a game they now share.