A dedicated summer regimen has Matthew Whittaker off to a blistering start to the Ontario Junior Hockey League season.
Through six games, the 19-year-old forward has 12 points (including four goals) to lead the North York Rangers in scoring. He is currently tied for second in league scoring with three other players.
“I put in a lot of work in the summer with a bunch of the guys on the team and our trainer Jason Izraelski,” Whittaker said. “I worked a lot on the ice with [head coach] Mark Joslin.
“I stayed off the ice a bit more this summer than I have in the past and I think I have a lot to prove and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Whittaker, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 202 pounds, knows this is a big season for him as he will be making the move to NCAA hockey next year where he will play for the Mercyhurst Lakers.
“He definitely realized he’s going to the next level after this season so it’s a big year for him,” Joslin said. “He can’t regress at all and he was definitely prepared to come in this season. He’s worked very hard.”
Committed to Mercyhurst University Hockey 2015! Couldn’t be more excited! #Hurst
— Matt Whittaker (@mwhittaker89) July 26, 2013
One reason that Whittaker decided to commit to Mercyhurst was due to Patrick Piacentini. He was the Rangers’ captain last year and began his NCAA career with Mercyhurst this season.
The Lakers 2014-15 roster contains eight former OJHL players.
“Patty is someone I really look up to,” Whittaker said. “It’s a beautiful school, it’s a really small campus, and that’s something that really suits me.
“Coming from North York I’m use to going to school where there’s not a lot of kids and I think the small classroom sizes are a real benefit to me.
“It’s also a great hockey program, they have an upward trend and it’s just something I’m really excited to do next year.”
Joslin has no doubts that Whittaker will excel in the NCAA.
“I think he’ll do great because he plays 200 feet, you can see the way he battles, takes hit to make plays,” said the Rangers’ coach. “He’s a leader on the bench and in the dressing room, at practice, so I think he’ll do fantastic.”
Whittaker wasn’t drafted by an OHL team but has always wanted to play NCAA hockey since taking a trip to the University of Miami-Ohio while in bantam.
“We saw a couple of games down there and toured the campus and I think right there was when I decided to go the NCAA,” he said.
Although he was undrafted, Whittaker does have major junior experience.
He spent the 2012 preseason with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, an experience he called “great.”
Whittaker was most impressed with how the Armada players carried themselves, whether it was at the rink, on the ice or even at the hotel.
One of the Armada’s senior players at the time was Cedric Paquette, who had been drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier in the summer. Whittaker said he made a point to interact with him.
“I sat beside [him] — I doubt he remembers me — but he talked to me a bit and he really helped me out,” Whittaker sad. “I’m not sure if he realizes but some of the things [he did], I just watched him, just the way he handled himself is something I took with me.”
Despite not going the major junior route, Whittaker insists his hockey dream remains the same.
“The great thing about the NCAA is if something doesn’t work out you always have a fall back plan,” he said. “But for me, I want to play pro hockey and I just figured the NCAA was the best route for me to get there.”