Mahalak drafted by NHL’s CarolinaWritten by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
Self-doubt began to creep in during the third hour, but it all washed away when Matt Mahalak heard his name called. The 18-year-old Monroe, Mich., native was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes June 25 in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Draft.
“It’s one step closer to living out my dream,” he said. “It’s really an indescribable feeling. It’s an honor and a privilege. There are so many different emotions you feel. You’re excited and nervous, but you know you still have a lot of hard work to do, so you don’t want to be too excited.”
Mahalak went 8-8-4 this season with a .908 save percentage and 3.07 goals against average for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. He was one of only eight goalies invited to participate in the NHL draft combine and was the 11th goalie drafted.
With several goalies ranked ahead of him falling farther than expected, Mahalak began to worry he might not get drafted.
“The only rough part was the long wait from the second round all the way until the sixth round on Saturday,” Mahalak said. “There were not a lot of goalies being drafted. The guys ranked ahead of me weren’t going. It made me very nervous. It made it that much sweeter when my name did get called, because I was so worried it wasn’t going to happen.”
As Mahalak began to think he might not get drafted, he almost missed hearing his name called.
“Right before the pick, I was getting ready to turn around and talk,” Mahalak said. “I don’t even remember what I was going to say. As soon as I turned around, my brother was grabbing my arm and making me stand up because my name had just gotten called. It was kind of a weird moment. As soon as I stood up and realized he wasn’t joking, I hugged all of my family. It took me almost five minutes to get through the hugs.”
Attending the draft in St. Paul, Minn., was a nerve-racking experience, but Mahalak said he managed to enjoy himself.
“I had a phenomenal time, because I have family from Minneapolis,” he said. “Thursday night I stayed at my grandma’s house. I had around 25 family members there at the moment I got drafted. It was really cool to be able to share all this with my family.”
His family knew to pay attention when the Hurricanes were at the podium because Carolina owner Peter Karmanos owns the Plymouth Whalers. The team has a history of drafting Plymouth players, including backup goaltender Justin Peters. The youth hockey team Mahalak played for is also owned by Karmanos.
After celebrating with his family, Mahalak headed to the podium and was handed a Carolina jersey and hat for a photo opportunity. He then met Carolina’s general manager, scouts, head coach Paul Maurice and former player Ron Francis.
“He’s a guy I used to watch on TV, and now I’m shaking his hand and he’s telling me congratulations,” Mahalak said. “It was really a cool experience.”
Mahalak talked with Maurice again in the Hurricanes suite and discussed the summer schedule, including a weeklong camp and a prospect tournament. They also talked about Carolina goalie coach Tom Barrasso.
“He’s had a lot of success with Cam Ward,” Mahalak said. “Coach Maurice gave me a few pointers about how Tom likes to coach. It was very interesting hearing the head coach’s perspective of the goalie coach. He had such a successful career. I’m excited to meet him, work with him and learn as much as I can from him.”
Ward is one of several young goaltenders Mahalak has kept an eye on, including Steve Mason, Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price.
“I’ve followed all the guys who have been junior players like myself and made it big,” he said. “They did it, and I can do it, too. They’ve given me inspiration.”
Mahalak hopes to work with Barrasso on evolving beyond his butterfly style into more of a hybrid goaltender.
“Butterfly is a big part of the game, but it’s not the only part,” he said. “You still need to be very active. My positioning is very sound. If I can find the balance between solid positioning and being active, that can lead to a lot of good things.”
Mahalak is returning to the Whalers for another season while he attempts to earn an NHL contract.
“Just being drafted isn’t a guarantee,” he said. “My focus right now is to play as well as possible for the Whalers and win a lot of games for them. Come next summer, we’ll be able to reevaluate where I stand with the Hurricanes.”
He will again compete for playing time with Scott Wedgewood, who was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the third round of the draft last year.
“I’m going to be able to be much more competitive this season as far as battling for the starting job,” Mahalak said. “I hope to play in many more games than I got in this season. We’ll have to see how that plays out.”