Matt Mahalak Pre-Combine Interview

TSR Features, TSR Interviews | 27 May 2011

     With the likes of current NHL goaltenders Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas to Jack Campbell, a first round pick in last year’s NHL draft, the state of Michigan has been a hockey hotbed for American goaltenders over the years. Plymouth Whalers’ goaltender Matt Mahalak is looking to be the next Michigan product to be drafted and find success in the professional hockey ranks.

     It seemed as if Mahalak lucked out again when the Whalers selected him in the 2nd round of the 2009 OHL Priority Selection draft. Like the state of Michigan, the Whalers themselves have developed NHL goaltenders Michal Neuvirth of the Washington Capitals and Justin Peters of the Carolina Hurricanes as well as a long list of recent NHL draft picks in Scott Wedgewood (New Jersey, 2010), Matt Hackett (Minnesota, 2009), and Jeremy Smith (Nashville, 2007).

     The 2010 high school graduate was well traveled over his high school years; playing hockey and living in three different states over four years. Mahalak played for Midget AAA Compuware in Plymouth, Mich. his freshman year, at Culver Military Academy in Indiana for the next year, and then in Ohio playing for the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) his senior year. Mahalak returned to Michigan and appeared in 21 games posting a 3.08 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in his first OHL season. Due to a big second half, Mahalak rose from the 25th spot on Central Scouting Service’s North American goaltenders rankings to the eighth spot in the final rankings.

     The Scouting Report talked to Mahalak about his combine preparation, his past hockey seasons, and the loss of fellow Detroit area goalie Ian Jenkins.

Photo: Plymouth Whalers

TSR: You have had a lot of success in junior drafts, while there’s obviously a big difference between the drafts, do you feel that has helped you in your preparation and/or mindset for the NHL draft?

MM: Yeah I think so. Going through the OHL draft and the USHL [Futures] draft and talking to multiple junior teams and going through those experiences is going to help me with having experience doing interviews and meeting with coaches but obviously this is going to be brought to a whole new level. The combine is going to be real exciting and I’m looking forward to it.

TSR: Two of your teammates also got invitations to the NHL combine. Have you talked to Rickard Rakell and Stefan Noesen much about next week?

MM: Yeah, Stefan has been at the rink with me every day here in Plymouth preparing for the combine and we’ve bounced ideas off each other with what workouts we want to do and when we want to start tapering [the workouts]. Rakell is back in Sweden now so we haven’t talked much with him. We also have a lot of ex-Whalers around the rink like AJ Jenks (Florida, 2008). He went through the combine so he’s been a big help in talking about the interview process and some of the little things with what to expect when we get to Toronto.

TSR: You chose to attend a high school hockey program that has produced players such as Ryan Suter, John-Michael Liles, and Blake Geoffrion. Why attend Culver and not stay to play for Compuware?

MM: Well there were a few things. My sister had been there for a couple years and loved it and when I was in the 6th and 7th grade I would always go down and visit here and see the amazing campus. I was tentative to go down there my freshman year of high school, but decided to stay and play for Compuware. The whole idea of going to school in Monroe, Mich. and driving 45 minutes every day up to Plymouth, Mich. for practice, playing AAA Midget hockey, and missing school was really taking a toll. With Culver having a rink right on campus, their emphasis on school, the leadership aspect of Culver with their great leadership classes, and a high rate of students getting into the college of their choice made it a really great decision.

TSR: You also have had your fair share of achievements inside the classroom (4.0 throughout high school and co-winner of the USHL’s Scholar-Athlete Award in 2010). What made you chose the OHL route over going the college route?

MM: It’s probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made and the deciding factor was that I wanted to commit myself to being a professional hockey player. I didn’t want to give up anything on the school aspect of my life and I knew the Plymouth organization puts a great emphasis on school so I’m still taking classes at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I’m still working towards getting my degree and I’m still right on track as far as credits go. Playing hockey at such a high level and getting a college education that I wanted is really the best of both worlds.

TSR: Plymouth has had a lot of goaltenders in the last couple of years that have been drafted in the top 100 picks. Do you think this is a coincidence or the organization’s commitment to bringing in solid goaltenders and developing them?

MM: I think it’s a real credit to the Plymouth Whalers organization. I think it’s not only a commitment to drafting guys, but developing them as well. The goalie coach here, Stan Matwijiw, is unbelievable. He’s with us at every game and at practice two to three times a weeks a week, sometimes more, and also helps us on off the ice. I still talk to Stan almost every other day even in the offseason and working with him has definitely helped me. Working with Stan this year and Coach Vellucci and the whole organization I can see that it’s not a surprise with how many goalies have been drafted here. The level of play that is expected of you really forces you to get better and perform well so to me that was also one of the factors that made me want to come to Plymouth.

TSR: Your season ended a little over a month ago losing to eventual OHL champions in Owen Sound. What have you been doing to prepare for the NHL combine and even next season over the last month?

MM: We’ve been on the ice about twice a week staying in shape and having fun. As far as being in the weight room, I’m just concentrating on the things that they’ll be testing on in Toronto. I’ve been doing testing every week to see the progress that I’ve made and hopefully next week will by my best week yet.

TSR: I saw that The Hockey News did a write-up on you in late 2008. What has it been like having the spotlight shone on you from both the media and scouts for the last three or so years?

MM: Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming and is a lot to handle, but I still try to enjoy it as much as I can. It’s part of the following your dreams idea when you were a kid to make it big and it’s bringing all that to life makes everything interesting and exciting.

TSR: Ian Jenkins, a fellow Detroit AAA hockey player and future OHLer passed away on Monday. Did you know him and if so, can you talk a little bit about the type of person and player he was?

MM: I really met Ian for the first time this season as he was going through his [OHL] draft process and was a prospect for the Whalers to draft. He was a great goalie and a great kid. He’s also worked with our goalie coach Stan Matwijiw for a number of years so I’ve done the same camps with him and kind of worked with him coaching younger goalies.

     This Saturday, Mahalak and Jenkins’ goaltending school will be hosting a hockey game to raise money for the Big E Foundation, a foundation set up in memory of Jenkins. The event will begin at 2 p.m. at Compuware Arena in Plymouth, Mich. and will feature other goaltenders from the Detroit area as well as current OHL goaltenders Brandon Hope of the Sarnia Sting, Jack Campbell of the Windsor Spitfires, Michael Houser of the London Knights, and Mahalak.

     Mahalak urged anyone who is unable to attend the event to visit to learn how donations can be to the Big E Foundation.

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