Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how good a hockey goalie really is, especially if a cast of all-star teammates surrounds him. Defensive breakdowns in his end of the ice are few and the other goalie sees most of the shots.
Matt Irwin of Amesbury has not been surrounded by all-stars but he has made a name for himself (Daily News All-Star last two years) anyway protecting the Indians net.
During a 2-16-1 season, he was under siege nightly (44 shots per 45-minute game). “Having to make a lot of saves was what I expected to do,” he told me in a recent interview. “I know that I won’t be sitting back there with little action.” By comparison, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins faces an average of 31 shots per game in a 60-minute game.
“He has been our best player for the past two seasons,” said AHS coach Pete Cignetti of his junior goalie.
Coach Cignetti told me that Matt was a backup as a freshman but made “astronomical improvement before his sophomore season.”
Matt credited that transformation to Rob Day from Exeter (NH) who is also known as, “The Goalie Guy.” Rob has specialized in training goalies for nearly 20 years. “I owe everything to him,” Matt told me. “I train with him on synthetic ice once a week during the off-season and schedule appointments with him during the season.”
Matt assured me that despite the many shots fired in his direction, “he’s never had any bad goalie dreams.”
It wasn’t as easy for his mother, Laura. “Being the goalie’s mom makes watching a little difficult,” she admitted in an email. She also told me that her family had a hockey background. She said that her father founded a youth hockey program in Western Massachusetts and her brother played hockey. “I lived in a rink most every winter in my childhood,” she added.
Matt wasn’t always a goalie. “When I first played I wanted to score goals,” he recalled, “in fact, I was scoring three or four goals per game.”
What caused the switch to being a goalie? He laughed when he told me, “I was attracted to being a goalie because the equipment looked really cool. I tried being a goalie in the mites and just loved dressing up in all the pads.”
Any hockey pads Matt has worn this season have seen plenty of use. In one of his best games, he had 60 saves in a 3-0 loss to Masco.
Matt said that he wasn’t surprised by Newburyport’s great season. “They had plenty of really good players including the goalie,” he said.
Amesbury played Newburyport twice during the season. “We lost badly to them the first time,” he recalled.
The second time was much different. “We ended up losing 3-1,” said Coach Cignetti, “but one goal was on a power play and another on an empty net. Matt had 49 saves.”
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens is Matt’s favorite goalie. “He’s young (21) and already in the NHL,” he said. “I like his style of play and how focused he gets.”
When Matt was younger, he also played baseball and lacrosse. Now his other athletic activities are skateboarding and surfing.
“Matt is a quiet leader and lets his play do the talking for him,” said Coach Cignetti of his captain. “He sets a good example with his work ethic and is always looking to improve.”
( This story appeared in The Town Common on April 22, 2009 )