Mahalak ‘made it through’ NHL combine, ‘did well’Written by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
While most 18-year-olds were busy preparing for their high school graduation, Matt Mahalak was preparing for a different event.
From May 30 to June 5, the Monroe native was in Toronto for the NHL’s annual draft combine.
“I have never lived the life of a normal teenager,” Mahalak said. “I have never gone to prom and done the typical high school things. While it’s been tough, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.”
Mahalak was just one of eight goalies who were picked to attend the combine, which uses a variety of tests to help teams determine a player’s value.
The combine invite represented an opportunity for Mahalak to showcase his skills and helped the young net minder come one step closer to his ultimate goal: playing in the NHL.
Mahalak said that the combine was unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
“It was much different than I expected,” he said. “The first two days were nothing but interviews with teams. I didn’t expect to be wearing a suit and tie the first few days there, but it was nice that it wasn’t all physical testing throughout the entire five days.”
Mahalak ranked in the top 24 for the fatigue test, and he was proud that he came in lean, learning he had a body fat index of just 8 percent. While those stats are impressive it was not his crowning achievement.
“I was just glad I didn’t puke during the bike test,” he said with a chuckle.
Mahalak ended up finishing in the top 20 for the Vo2 Bike test that is routinely the most difficult for prospects.
“It’s weird because I was nervous before [the Vo2 Test] began, and then you had all these people watching you on top of it. I was just glad I made it through and did well.”
His love affair with hockey began at a young age. After dabbling in other sports, Mahalak decided life on the ice was the way to go.
“I played a little bit of basketball, but hockey has always been the sport I enjoyed the most,” he said.
Despite playing hockey for most of his youth, it wasn’t until Mahalak entered his teenage years that he realized his passion could be more than a hobby.
“I was playing for a team and we never had a set goalie, and it just ended up being my turn to play in net,” he said.
“I ended up playing really well and it was a situation where people started telling me I needed to play goalie. Even my teammates started wanting me in goal because they realized I could do some things that they couldn’t.”
When getting ready to play in Triple-A hockey, Mahalak said he received a lot of interest from teams. The attention was surreal.
“I just couldn’t figure out what was so special about me. I realized that I could keep going with this if I worked hard.”
After playing a season in the United States Hockey League with the Youngstown Phantoms, Matt joined the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season.
“The speed of the game was difficult to get adjusted to at first. I made some adjustments to my game,” he said.
In the second half of the season, Mahalak posted a .930 save percentage.
“I took the time to get better and I set some goals for myself. I was very proud of the way I finished off the season. Being a backup inspired me to work that much harder to get better.”
The effort was good enough to earn Mahalak a coveted spot in the NHL combine.
Mahalak has little idea as to where he will end up during the June draft.
“I have interviewed with eight different teams since the combine, but there has been no indication who will take me either way.
“You just have to sit back and wait,” he said.
Between now and then, Mahalak will continue to work out and stay ready for when his name might be called.
“This has been a great experience, and I am just thankful to be in the position I am at,” he said.