Ontario Reign defenseman Matt Roy has skated into his second full professional season in stride. The 6-1 blueliner has been a leader both offensively and defensively for this season’s edition of the Reign and has delivered at both ends of the ice.
“I think Matt’s been our most consistent, reliable, dependable defenseman game in and game out,” Ontario Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers said. “The thing with Matt is, he just does all the little things well. Very seldom does he bring attention to himself by trying to do too much. He’s not going to go end to end usually but that’s the beauty of the way he plays, it’s a quiet game, it’s a steady game and usually that’s the sign of a good defenseman. When you don’t really notice him, and not notice him for all the right reasons, that’s a good thing. He’s a good leader, he’s a good person, he prepares well and it’s good to see him have the results he’s had this year.”
Before the season, Stothers praised Roy’s defensive prowess and warned us all not to sleep on his offensive ability, either.
“Royzie is very sound defensively,” Stothers said in October. “He plays a complete and composed game. He’s probably more comfortable in the role of looking after things in his own end but I wouldn’t limit him to just that alone, he does have some good, offensive upside. He’s got a real heavy shot from the point. He’s one of those guys that comes in every day and does things the right way, he works hard.”
The offensive side of his game is perhaps where Roy has impressed the most this season, at least in comparison to prior expectations. Roy has collected 21 points (6-15-21) from 34 games played this season, already surpassing his 2017-18 point total, while becoming an important member of the Ontario power play.
Roy has tallied 12 points (3-9-12) on the man advantage this season, leading all Ontario defenseman and ranking tied for second in total on the team, trailing only forward Sheldon Rempal by a point. The Michigan Tech product has also ranked amongst the AHL’s best defensemen on the man advantage, ranking tied for eighth in power-play points on the season. Roy added that his power-play time comes in addition to his usual duties on the penalty kill, where he’s typically one of the first over the boards when the Reign are a man short.
“I’m usually starting every penalty kill and, with Walks being up and down, sometimes I’m on the first unit of the power play, sometimes I’m on the second,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team, just doing whatever I can.”
Stothers pointed to Roy’s ability to shoot the puck as a big reason for his offensive success.
“He’s got a big, heavy shot and he does a good job of getting it through from the point,” Stothers said. “He has been real good on our power play, as well as at 5-on-5, quick insides, getting pucks to the net when you’ve got some traffic, he’s been real good at that.”
The Reign’s bench boss also credited Roy’s preparation in the offseason as an ability to adapt to perhaps a new game for those improvements. In today’s professional hockey landscape, Stothers noted that the most difficult shots to stop may not be the biggest shots from the point, but rather the pucks that the goaltenders are less prepared for, which can come from a quicker release from defensemen.
“He spends a lot of time in the offseason working on his shot, getting it away quicker, getting more accurate and trying to get a little bit more torque behind it, to get a little extra on it, but he also knows when to lay off and make sure, rather than the big wind up, make sure he just gets it through so it’s not getting blocked,” Stothers said. “The biggest thing for defensemen now, is teams are so good at getting in the shooting lanes, fronting pucks and blocking shots, that they really don’t have time. They’ve got to get it and then get it to the net front as quick as possible. It’s not too often now that it’s a real bomb that beats a goaltender, it’s the ones that they haven’t had a chance to get set up for, or get out and challenge, and if you’ve got the proper net front, the ones they don’t see, so just hit the net.”
Goal Number 3⃣ Scored By Our Number 3⃣! pic.twitter.com/hGrgNEiEhB
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) November 12, 2018
Roy noted that while he feels good on the ice this season, it’s harder to look at that when the team isn’t playing as well as expected. He elaborated that he believes the Reign are starting to play better as a team, which has lent itself to a better feeling personally.
“I feel good,” Roy said. “I know we’ve obviously been struggling as a team, but we’re starting to do a lot of things better and when the team plays better, it helps every individual feel like they’re playing better. I feel like the team’s getting better so I’m getting better, feeling good.”
With defenseman such as Oscar Fantenberg and Paul LaDue earning promotions to the NHL level, and Sean Walker joining them for parts of the season, Roy’s role with the Reign has expanded both on and off the ice. Roy is a part of the Reign’s internal “leadership group” and recognized that with a young overall group of blueliners, he and the other second and greater year players do their part to help guide the younger guys.
“We don’t really have an old d-core – I think our oldest guy is Dermy, who’s a [1994 birth year],” Roy said “Overall, we’re all pretty young and I think we’re just trying to step up and do what we can to help the rookies.”
Stothers noted that not all leaders are loud and that Roy is a prime example of that. He mentioned that Roy is a guy that he and the coaching staff relies in the room and that when Roy speaks, people listen, though the second-year pro typically leads by example.
“He prefers to just lead by example and just making sure that he’s doing his job well and correctly,” Stothers said. “It’s a good example for the other guys. You don’t have to be a ‘rah-rah’ guy to be a leader, you have to be a prepared guy and Matty Roy, there’s not many that prepare better than he does.”
The preparation is something that is always talked about with players transitioning from college or juniors to the professional game, how to prepare like a pro. Roy noted that he himself had a transition last season but around this time of the year, things started to fall into place. He feels that the same thing is happening with the younger players on this season’s Reign team as well.
“It’s obviously harder with a younger crew, sorting everything out it’s a different game with guys coming from juniors and college,” Roy said. “It happened with me last year, I was a little bit uncomfortable at first but about halfway through the year, something clicked and I think that’s starting to happen with our team, so it’s starting to be a little bit easier on everybody.”
If things clicked last season then they have certainly continued to do so in Year 2.
“I think the defense core has changed and now he’s relied upon more,” Stothers said. “The minutes have increased for him, the responsibilities have increased for him and I think he’s really welcomed that added responsibility both on and off the ice. He’s now looked at as the guy that’s supposed to help develop the younger guys, a situation that he’s familiar with because he’s not far removed from being one of those young or inexperienced guys that was looking for the guidance. He’s got a maturity about him already, that sets him apart from other guys. He’s pretty flipping good.”