Stefan Matteau honestly didn’t appear to know the answer.
When asked by Blue Jackets media Thursday night after he scored in his CBJ debut against Philadelphia, the newly signed winger couldn’t remember the last time he had tallied in an NHL game.
He could only utter a singular word of exasperation at the question before being reminded of the goal he scored for New Jersey in a game Dec. 4, 2015, against the same Flyers.
“Yeah it was, that’s right,” Matteau said. “For New Jersey, from the corner.”
That goal was the third goal of his NHL career, and he’d have to wait more than four years for his fourth, so at least he made it a good one. Matteau cut to the front of the net Thursday night, established position in front of goalie Brian Elliott and expertly tipped a shot by Boone Jenner past Elliott to give Columbus a 3-1 lead.
It went for naught in a 4-3 overtime loss, but Matteau was still happy to see his name back on an NHL scoresheet.
“I felt the guy (Flyers defenseman Mark Friedman) boxing me out there and I managed to spin off of him and get in front, and Booner found my stick on the shot and I just tipped it in,” Matteau said.
“It feels nice to be able to prove that to myself and prove that to others that I can play, and I am just going to keep working as hard as I can.”
In all, Matteau finished with the goal and a plus-one rating in 12:44, playing 18 shifts in the game, mostly with Jenner as his center and Nathan Gerbe and Gus Nyquist on the other wing. Matteau tied for the team lead with four shots on goal and laid seven hits while blocking two shots.
That’s the game Matteau has been showing most of the season down in Cleveland, one that’s not terribly dissimilar from that of his father, Stephane, who scored 144 NHL goals in 818 games but also racked up 742 penalty minutes and 36 fights. Stephane is most known for the Game 7 goal that sent the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals on the way to the title in 1994, but he was also a big body at 6-foot-4 and used it in a much more rugged NHL.
Stefan, meanwhile, stands 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, and his combination of size and skill is what made him a first-round draft pick of the Devils in 2012 out of the U.S. National Team Development Program. Though his career hasn’t quite gone the way he had likely expected — after debuting at age 18 in 2013, he had a 3-4-7 line in 64 NHL games with three teams before his CBJ debut Thursday — Matteau has been a scorer and also not afraid to drop the gloves at the AHL level.
Signed by the Monsters of the AHL before this season, Matteau has been one of the most consistent performers this season for Cleveland, posting 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 goals in 50 games.
“I think I’ve been staying with it,” Matteau said. “I’ve been working as hard as I could. They have a good coaching staff there that I’ve been working with. Everything has been good.”
Head coach John Tortorella expressed his pleasure with Matteau’s performance after the game, while Gerbe agreed. The two had been linemates down in Cleveland for much of the season before Gerbe’s December call-up, and the veteran Gerbe sees a player in Matteau who has been coming into his own this year at age 25.
“We played on the same line in Cleveland, and he’s a real good player,” Gerbe said. “Big, heavy body and gets to the net, as you can see tonight with his big goal there. The thing with him, sometimes when you’re thrown into the NHL so young, you lose (your game) a little bit. He’s still kind of young, 25, and he seems like he’s finding who he is and that’s real important for him.”
Matteau has bided his time in the AHL and worked his way to a point a recall for his first NHL game since February 2018 was well deserved. Now his hope is to contribute as much to the Blue Jackets as he can while he’s up with the big club.
“I just keep working and staying positive, and I was pretty optimistic that my time would come,” he said. “Now I’m here and I just have to make the most of it.”