Before so many aspects of our daily life changed, things weren’t too bad for Matt Roy.
To be fair, the LA Kings weren’t a playoff team, the most important frustration and one felt deeply through their dressing room. But the second-year player hadn’t missed a game since his debut the previous season and was riding a crest of momentum in which he was a minus-1 on February 12 and a plus-16 when play halted one month later. More confident in asserting his physicality yet still quick on his feet, Roy’s possession rates and expected goals-for percentages relative to his teammates were the highest on the Kings, and Todd McLellan was ready to increase the 25-year-old’s workload.
“He’s much more physical and strong on his feet than we probably would’ve thought at this level,” General Manager Rob Blake said last week. “He’s been able to make that adjustment.”
Roy, a 2015 seventh round pick who finished with four goals and 18 points in 70 games, was “probably and arguably with the coaching staff our best defenseman,” according to assistant coach Trent Yawney. And, at the end of the year, he was inserted into an unprecedented time and place in which his input would help shape player needs as the league and players union cooperatively construct a network of logistics that would allow the resumption of play this summer and facilitate as safely as possible a return to quasi-normalcy across the league.
Sharing information surrounding ongoing league re-start negotiations with the rest of his L.A. teammates represents his first duties as the Kings’ NHLPA representative, a position previously held by Alec Martinez.
“I think it was probably a week before Marty (Alec Martinez) got traded, and he got a sense that it was going to happen,” Roy said. “He came up to me on the airplane and he asked if I had any interest in taking over the role. I was nervous but interested. I’ve never done anything like this before, but he wanted to do it and he helped me with everything I needed. From that standpoint it’s been a smooth transition, but with the coronavirus, it’s been a little crazy.”
He’s been up for the challenge even if this may be his first representative duty since his iron-fisted tenure at Allen Elementary School in Plymouth, Michigan. “In fifth grade I was student council president, but I don’t really remember that,” he said.
“It’s kind of funny – Marty said that it’s really not too much work. You have some phone calls and you have a few meetings over the summer. ‘Yeah, OK, no problem.’ My first call was the coronavirus call. We’ve had quite a few of them.”
Roy has the reputation as someone who shows up to work needing little maintenance or reinforcement. He did require one noted Todd McLellan conversation early in the 2019-20 season after a poor start, but as the season quickly progressed, his steadiness allowed the coaching staff to plug and play and address other areas in need of adjustments. Since his debut under Willie Desjardins, he’s played 95 games and missed none.Those aware of his approach aren’t surprised. Students are recommended to see academic advisors before registering for classes at Michigan Tech, and Roy was always the first player to book appointments and communicate with his advisors. “I had several hockey players as my advisees, and Matt was always the first one to come see me,” said Craig Pellizzaro, the Director of Intramurals and Physical Education and Instructor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, at MTU.
Pellizzaro guided Roy towards his Bachelor of Science in Sports and Fitness Management, a degree earned remotely last off-season. Since leaving school to turn pro at the end of his 2016-17 junior year, he’s taken classes remotely. He took three in the summer of 2017, which included an internship with a strength and conditioning coach. Then, one class in spring, 2018, two in summer of 2018 and one in the fall of 2018 before completing his degree last summer.
“He told me he wanted to finish his degree, no matter what. Right from that point, we made a plan,” Pellizzaro said. “He took classes that he needed to take that weren’t as readily available for him remotely. So, he stacked up on our major classes his last semester and took full responsibility of the load and playing hockey. He left school early that semester, but he still finished all his schoolwork and was still on top of the work he needed to have done. Each off-season, each semester he was contacting me to see which classes he could take to finish his degree remotely while he was playing, and that was very impressive to me.”
It was also impressive to Martinez, a defenseman and Michigander who also earned his college degree while playing pro hockey in a story well-told by Lisa Dillman, then of NHL.com. The ex-King’s affinity for Roy – or Partner – continues across divisional boundaries, even if he’s cut his Kings cord. “I think he still sits in on the [NHLPA] calls, and he’ll give me his feedback,” Roy said. Cal Petersen also offers his ear on the calls.
It’s been hard to get a feel for individual league personalities on these calls in lieu of any sort of in-person meetings. “I definitely didn’t think I would be doing this about five years ago,” Roy said of the . “But it is cool getting the inside scoops on everything and relaying information to teammates and having that voice for our team.”
The regularity with which the NHLPA has held calls has increased but largely varies. “Sometimes we’ll have a call once a week,” Roy said. “Depending on what we’re talking about, there might be a bit of a break, and a few weeks later the calls kind of ramp back up again. It just kind of depends on the dates and stuff like that.”
He then processes the information from the calls and shares them with his teammates. “For the general information and general concepts of what we’re talking about, we split the group chat into two different groups. I think that in the smaller groups, people have a little bit more of a choice and they’ll be more willing to speak up and share their thoughts on things. For big ideas and concepts, we had smaller group chats, and for decisions and stuff like that, I make phone calls to the guys individually and hear what they have to say. It just kind of depends what we’re talking about and what we’re dealing with.”
So, if you want a puck knocked down, a body cleared out of the crease, a busy course load managed or the accurate transfer of important and proprietary information between a union and its members, may we suggest the versatile Matt Roy?
Rob Blake, on the first time he saw Matt Roy in person:
No, never watched him in college. Obviously, a lot in Ontario. Not this season, but the prior season, near the end of the year when we brought him in, we were bringing him in just because he played very steady in the American League and we felt there was an opportunity for him to get games. We were going to bring up Kale Clague, who ended up breaking his foot the night before. So when we brought up Matty, I don’t remember if it was 30 games left or something, but the timing was he was just going to come in, we were going to give him a few games, see how that steadiness transferred to the NHL. And from that point on he never came out of the lineup. We found ourselves after games not even discussing him because there wasn’t any issues that stood out in the wrong way. He took advantage of the opportunity, but he also progressed and carried the same type of game from the American League to the NHL. A lot has been talked about the first two games of the season and he had a talk with Todd, and I think what they did, Todd wasn’t really familiar with him from last year as much as either Billy or Marco might have been, and I think it settled him down and he became a match-up D and we would put different types of defensemen that were coming into the lineup with him because he was a steady influence.
Blake, on the next step in Matt Roy’s development:
I’m not sure there’s another – I wouldn’t say ‘step.’ I think you saw the trusting by the coaching staff. I know Trent Yawney has a lot of good points to talk on – the strength of him, like I said, the match-ups. What they’ll do is they’ll find him some more minutes, whether that’s secondary power play. He’s already contributed to the penalty kill, and like I said, the different match-ups with different teams. Just the overall confidence in his game and the steadiness going forward. He’s much more physical and strong on his feet than we probably would’ve thought at this level. He’s been able to make that adjustment. I would say that the next step for him is not just breaking into the NHL, but moving the trust and the culture of the team going forward.
Trent Yawney, on Matt Roy’s development this season:
Royzee got off to a slow start. He’s a quiet guy, but he was analyzing things too much as far as not reacting quickly enough. Once he got his game in order, I’ve never seen a young player or been a part of an organization with a young defenseman like Royzee, who was so consistent from start to finish. He was probably and arguably with the coaching staff our best defenseman. … I was looking for more minutes for him. He could’ve handled more minutes towards the end and getting him into the 20-range. He was a real pleasant surprise for me, and I know Marco and Billy had told me about how well he had played down the stretch last year when he first came in, but he’s got a bright future ahead of him.