Over the last few years, Avalanche management has endured more than a few jibes from those who have called it “Columbus West”, with many imports from the Columbus Blue Jackets having found their way into employment with the Avs.
Jared Bednar was involved in the Blue Jackets’ system for years. So was assistant GM Chris MacFarland and a host of players, including everyone from Jan Hejda to Fedor Tyutin to Rene Bourque to Andrew Bodnarchuk to Cody Goloubef to T.J. Tynan.
Matt Calvert is another ex-pat of Columbus who made his way to the Avs and…is anyone snickering about that? Calvert has been an outstanding addition to the Avs since coming over prior to last season. He was a very instrumental player in helping the Avs get to the playoffs last spring, with 11 goals and 26 points in 82 games. He was very good in the playoffs too, until they were unfortunately cut short by a likely concussion suffered in the second round against San Jose. The Avs really could have used him in that Game 7 in San Jose, but he couldn’t play.
Calvert, though, did a reassessment of where things stood with his hockey career this summer, at home in Brandon, Manitoba. Things were good – he’d just finished his 10th NHL season and had long-ago established himself as a solid third- or fourth-liner who could kill penalties and chip in offensively and be a leader on and off the ice.
But why, Calvert asked himself, couldn’t things get even better? Why not strive to get to some kind of new, improved level, even at age 29? What could he do to just make himself a better hockey player, maybe get those scoring numbers up, be a more dangerous player and not just a plugger on the depth lines?
Calvert has a couple of buddies from back home in Brandon who are now hockey skill coaches. After plenty of internal deliberation, Calvert came to something of an epiphany: “What if I just basically went back to school to re-learn the game of hockey? Why can’t an old dog learn some new tricks?”
So, he decided to employ the two buddies – Tyler Dittmer and Zeanan Ziemer, who together run a company called “True Skills” – and told them one thing before getting started:
“I literally told them, treat me like a 12-year-old,” Calvert said. “I said, ‘let’s start skating lessons, let’s start skill work.’ I was like ‘just because I’m in the NHL, I don’t want to be treated like I know it all.’ Because, I barely had taken a skating lesson in my whole life. All these young guys coming in…I thought, ‘why not give myself a shot at getting better in that area.’ It’s really paid off for me.”
Many players, when they seek improvement to their skating, look to pure power-skating coaches, where a focus is put more toward increasing leg strength and gliding techniques. For Calvert, he wanted to become a better skater in the small spaces. Calvert had plenty of power to his stride before, but it was in those smaller spaces – in front of the net, curling out of the corner to the net, places like that – where he wanted to be better. It might make him a better scorer, he thought.
And, it has. In his first 25 games with the Avs this season, Calvert has 17 points (six goals). He’s way ahead of his point pace of last year, or any other of his career. Calvert feels more confident with the puck around the net, because his skating edge work has improved. He doesn’t have to just be on a breakaway anymore to score goals.
“How can you use your edges more efficiently? How can you create more room for yourself. That’s something we really worked on,” Calvert said. “Everything was tailored toward my game. I love playing in the corners. That’s where I get a lot of my offense from, so we worked on a ton of that stuff. We weren’t sitting out there toe-dragging pucks or fancy stuff. It was all stuff that fit into my game. I had to go to the basics. I never really learned that stuff growing up. We learned systems and battle drills when I grew up, not working on your edges. I was working with my buddies too, so it was fun. It really helped me.”
Thank you to Tyler Dittmer and Zeanan Ziemer from True Skills for a great summer of on ice training. Can’t wait to get the season started! pic.twitter.com/dApOw1hWne
— Matt Calvert (@mattcalvert11) August 21, 2019
Another person to whom Calvert gives a lot of credit for inspiring him to change some habits, especially diet: Nathan MacKinnon. The way MacKinnon has transformed his body, partially through stricter eating habits, rubbed off on Calvert. He also incorporated some of MacKinnon’s workout regimen into his own.
“He’s such a leader in his ways. Like, he rides guys for their diet, their workouts. You know, he comes into camp the best in shape, so he expects everyone else to as well. I brought a lot more cardio into my workouts, just so I can last longer in the games, and be able to handle the bigger minutes if I earn them,” Calvert said.
So far, Calvert is averaging just five seconds more per game than he did last season (14:17 per game as opposed to 14:12) but the way he’s playing, that certainly shouldn’t go down at all. Right now, Calvert is playing on a line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Valeri Nichushkin, and the trio have been a lot for opposing defenses to handle these days.
“Belly, Val and Niets (Matt Nieto), it’s kind of been a mix of all four of us all year. We started the year at fourth on the depth chart and our big goal was to push every other line, and not just be a stellar line defensively but chip in offensively,” he said. “So, first off, I have to give my linemates a ton of credit for (more points) too.”