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Matt Calvert’s “Re-education” about Hockey Paying Big Dividends

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Courtesy Matt Calvert

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.”

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.”

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Adrian Dater - Kiss and Larry Bird fan. Writer with @Gambling and @Bookies. Previously Denver Post, SI, Bleacher Report to name just a few.

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Ricardo

Great look at Calvert–thanks.

Glen Burns

Love the story on Calvert! Really speaks to his character! Very lucky to have him with the Avs!

Rich

Dater great article. Calvary’s off-season is definitely paying he seems like a much more dangerous type player.

JD16

Nice one Dater. This is the kinda stuff that made me make the switch. Took a while for the other sub to end. Black Friday. Which turned out perfectly with your deal too.

Cam

I think that the hockey world mimics the tech world in the sense that “what got you here, won’t’ get you there” and the fact that Calvert has an intrinsic desire to hunger to be better than his mold is just huge. He’s got all the effort and grit but to step back, make a plan and then execute on a skill upgrade is what being a Pro is all about. Really good stuff Dater.

Adrian Dater

Good analogy, thanks and to others who read this

shjer00

Great post. Takes real dedication to humble yourself and start over. I have a new appreciation for Matt.

Eddie

Great read, glad I jumped on the subscription! Calverts game has definitely changed, these are the reasons why! Thanks for sharing these kinds of stories!

Matt Briggle

Great story. Guys like Calvert are the reasons why certain teams win cups and others don’t. Throughout the 90’s and 00’s, I felt that management was way to focused on “star”power rather than character. In doing so, they continually sold away what I thought were key players vital to post season success. I really think they could have won a couple of more cups in those years if they had decided to keep some of the guys like Keane, Reid, Ricci, and others. Hopefully Sakic recognizes this and is able to reserve some space under the cap to reward those… Read more »

mfnavs

Great comment! Dan Hinote and Eric Messier are 2 that stand out from the 2000’s where Pierre started to lose his mojo on assessment and “building” a team. It’s true we didn’t tap free agency per se, but rather traded assets and then re-signed players. However, the cost was the grit and role-players that really did make a difference. It’s funny because the game changed so much and we actually kept McLeod too long I feel like in an attempt to not look like we got rid of those kinds of players. GM not an easy job to say the… Read more »

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