After four seasons in the Western Hockey League, it could have ended better. At least, to be fair, Leif Mattson’s WHL career could have come to its brilliant conclusion with a real good-bye.
But then the world had itself a coronavirus pandemic and suddenly the long career of a solid WHL player came to a crushing and crashing end on a very good 41-18-4-1 team in Spokane, Wash.
“Yeah, it would have been nice to have been able to know that it was my last game, but I certainly understand why Hockey Canada and our league had to do what it did,” said Mattson, the 20-year-old from Stonewall who finished his career on a team that might have made a run at the WHL Championship this year.
“The announcement kind of took the fun out of it,” he conceded. “After four years in the league, it was tough way to just stop. And what was even worse is that our team was playing so well. We’d won our 10thstraight game on a Tuesday and had the day off on Wednesday. When we arrived at the locker room on Thursday, we were told to wait and see what was going to happen, but we knew on Wednesday, when they shut down the NBA, that our shutdown was inevitable. On Sunday, we found out we were all going home.”
Mattson, 20, who was born and raised in Stonewall, Man., and now lives in Kelowna, B.C., where he spent 3 ½ WHL seasons with the Rockets before being traded to Spokane at Christmas of last season, has committed to play hockey this fall at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. It’s a long way from Stonewall to Kelowna to Antigonish, but Mattson says he’s excited for the opportunity.
“I’m going into business at St. FX,” he said. “I want to get into the Sport Management Program they have there. My goal is to be involved in hockey at some level, whether coaching, scouting or in a front office, so I think that program will help me get to where I want to go.
“It’s great to have the junior scholarship money I’ll get for playing four full years in the WHL, but the only thing that worries me is that I haven’t been in a classroom in three years. I graduated from high school after my first year in the WHL, so going back to school will take some adjusting.”
Mattson started playing hockey at age five in Stonewall. He played all his minor hockey there and then, in Bantam, moved on to the Provincial Triple A Interlake Lightning. He was sensational. In two seasons, he had 49 goals and 97 points in 62 games (33-33-66 in 32 games in Year 2) and then, for his Midget year, left the Province. He played for Team Manitoba in the 2015 Canada Winter Games and had two goals and four points in six games.
“My mom was living in St. Albert, just outside Edmonton, so I moved there to be with her and play Midget in Alberta,” he said. “I was drafted by Brandon (eighth round, 164thoverall) in the Bantam Draft in 2014 when I played for Interlake, but never played there. I started my Western League career in Kelowna and really enjoyed it.
“But I didn’t have any problem with the trade to Spokane. It was a great experience. I got to play in another country, we had an outstanding team and the guys I met were really great. I thought we were bound to go a long way in the playoffs.”
Mattson wasn’t a big-name player in the WHL, but he had a terrific career. In 240 games, he had 79 goals and 194 points. This past season with Kelowna and Spokane, he had 23 goals and 57 points in 63 games.
Now, however, the WHL career is over and he’ll be embarking on four seasons on USPORT hockey.
“I’m excited about moving to the East Coast and playing at St. FX,” he said. “It’s a long way from Kelowna, I know, but I think it will be another great experience.”