Matt Calvert was barely 5-feet tall and 115 pounds when he was 15-years-old. He was also a three-year Manitoba Triple A Midget League player. But he never gave up his dream and now he’s one of the key players in a Columbus Blue Jackets lineup that’s headed to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Matt Calvert still goes back to Brandon every summer. And why not? He owns a home there and his best friends live there. He plays summer hockey with The Wagons and his fiancé, Courtney, is a Brandon girl. Granted, he’s famous in Brandon, but not so famous that it’s gone to his head.
In the summer, Calvert is a fun-loving guy who enjoys the lakes and the golf courses and his buddies and his best girl. In the winter, he’s one of Todd Richards’ favorite players.
“We love Matty,” said Richards, a few hours before the Columbus Blue Jackets were to face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre last month. “We love his feistiness, we love the way he forechecks and goes hard to the net. We just like having him back in the lineup. He’s our type of player.
“He just doesn’t ever back down from anything. He’s got enough skill to finish and make plays, but he lays it on the line every shift.”
Matt Calvert should be everybody’s favorite player. After all, when it comes to professional athletes, Calvert is the personification of never-say-die. And on Wednesday night, he assisted on the game’s first goal as he helped the Blue Jackets bdat the Dallas Stars 3-1 and clinch a playoff berth.
“When I was young, I loved to play hockey, but I never thought I’d make it to the NHL,” he conceded. “When I was 15-years-old, I was barely five feet tall and weighed 115 pounds. I scored one goal. I was a three-year Triple A midget player. When I was 18, I hadn’t played a game in the WHL. There was no chance for me.
“When I told my buddies I was going to be an NHL player, they just laughed and gave me the gears. They said, ‘C’mon Matty, you’re 17 and you’ve never played in the Dub. Forget it.’ But I wasn’t going to quit. I had this dream and I was going to do what I needed to do to see my dream through.”
Wheb he was 17, Calvert played one game with the Winkler Flyers. He didn’t get a point, but he had a fight and a misconduct. The next year, he made his hometown team, the Brandon Wheat Kings and played in all 72 games. He had 24 goals and 40 assists.
“My dad and I were talking about what I was going to do,” said Calvert, a graduate of Brandon’s Vincent Massey High School. “I thought that at best, I’d be a CIS player and that’s kind of what I was planning on doing. And then at Christmas, in my first year with the Wheat Kings, I was ranked. My dad and I were shocked, but there it was. Suddenly, I thought here was a chance I might get drafted.”
He was. The Blue Jackets took him with in the fifth round (127th overall) in the 2008 NHL entry draft. Essentially, he was a stockpiled player. A career minor leaguer: A kid who probably wouldn’t have three full years in the organization.
So he went back to Brandon and scored 28 goals in 2008-09 and then had a breakout season in 2009-10. He had 47 goals and 52 assists and included in his incredible campaign he earned Second-Team Eastern Conference All-Star and Memorial Cup All-Star honors.
But he also became the first and only player ever to score three short-handed goals – in a row – in one period. It came in the second period of a third-round playoff game against the Calgary Hitmen — on three different penalty kills. In a span of 6:45, Calvert scored a natural hat-trick and set a WHL record that will never be broken.
By the time he got to the Blue Jackets training camp in 2010, everybody knew his name. He was no longer a stockpiled player. He was a brilliant late-round draft pick and a future NHLer.
“People ask me if I had any regrets not signing with Columbus in 2009 and instead going back to junior for my third year as an overage player,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets. The first year of junior, you’re just filling out, growing up. The second year, you come in confident, and you start dominating games a little more. The third year, you get the feeling of being leaned on, of being the go-to guy. That’s something I’d never had, and I think it’s benefited me.”
In his first year as a pro in 2010-11, he spent 38 games with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League, but was called up at mid-season and never went back. In 2011-12, however, it worked out the opposite way. He started the season in Columbus and finished it in Springfield. In 2012-13, he opened the lockout in Springfield but joined the Blue Jackets for all 42 games after the lockout was settled.
And it’s somewhat amazing that this once-record setting penalty killer in Brandon is now a power play specialist in Columbus.
And he’s also a Blue Jacket first and foremost. He’s on a two-year, one-way deal that paid him $850,000 this season and will pay him $1.125 million next season. Matt Calvert never gave up and now he’s being rewarded.
And through it all, he has never turned his back on Brandon.
“I’m just attached to Brandon,” he said. “It’s my hometown and I still love it. Sure, I’m kind of famous there, but I was famous in Brandon when I played for the Wheat Kings.
“The coach who was most influential to me in my career was my Triple A midget coach with the Wheat Kings, Craig Anderson. We’re still tight to this day. He runs a hockey school in Brandon and I’m still involved with it. Brandon is an awesome place. I just love the lifestyle.
“There is nothing better in the world than summer at the lake with all my old friends. I love being an NHL player, but when the season ends, I’m just a Brandon guy.”