Lashoff Follows Winding Route to Tampa
It has been quite a hockey journey for Matt Lashoff during the past decade.
The new Lightning defenseman from East Greenbush, N.Y., just outside Albany, played for a team coached by a former NHLer in pee wee hockey in Connecticut, prepped for a year at the school that produced Brian Leetch and got an opportunity to play in the United States Development Program in Michigan . He also played three years at Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League for a coach now in the NHL and was an American Hockey League all-star in Providence.
Lashoff is just 22.
“It’s been crazy,” Lashoff said. “But I’ve been fortunate. It’s allowed me to look at things in different way and read things a little better. Not as much rattles your cage. I was lucky to be able to take all those steps gradually. It’s not that I was thrown into it all at once and got flustered. I learned at 16, 17 how to prepare to play at a high level. When that is ingrained in your head that early, you’re ahead of the game.”
Lashoff has shown that experience and composure, stepping directly into a key role for the Lightning after he was acquired in the deal that sent Mark Recchi to the Boston Bruins March 4.
In his first four games in Tampa, Lashoff had four assists and averaged more than 24 minutes. When Cory Murphy was injured, Lashoff took his spot as point man on the power play.
“The tools are there for him to be a good defenseman in this league,” Lightning Interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet said.
Lashoff, a smooth, effortless skater, developed his skills throughout his many stops on the road to Tampa.
With the Connecticut Yankees, Lashoff played for former New York Rangers forward Mike Backman. Lashoff had become good friends with Mike’s son Sean, who now plays for Yale and recently scored a hat trick ECAC championship game.
“It was tough to do,” said Lashoff, about the long drives between East Greenbush and Connecticut. “But it was definitely worth it.”
Lashoff went to Avon Old Farms, just outside Hartford, CT, in 2001-02. Avon coach John Gardner, winner of more than 600 games and seven New England titles, has sent many players to Division I colleges and several to the NHL including Leetch, Montreal’s Chris Higgins and goalie Jon Quick of the Los Angeles Kings.
“[Gardner] was awesome,” Lashoff said. “But the main thing for me was just growing up. I was living away from home for the first time, at a really young age. I learned a lot about how to take care of myself.”
Lashoff was invited to play in the United States Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. the next season and took advantage, playing 46 games for the U.S. Under-18 national team.
“The program was second to none for workouts and preparation,” Lashoff said. “It taught me what you need to do to take your game to the next level and how to train your mind.”
Lashoff’s original plan was to go to college after Ann Arbor. He committed early to Boston University. He admits he made the decision too early.
When a chance to play for Kitchener came, he took it. Lashoff played with current NHLers Mike Richards and David Clarkson among others for coach Peter DeBoer, now with the Florida Panthers.
“I wanted to be a professional athlete first,” said Lashoff, whose younger brother Brian signed an entry-level contract with the Detroit Red Wings last fall. “I thought for me to make the NHL and grow at the pace I wanted, the best thing was to go to juniors. It was the toughest hockey decision I’ve ever had to make, but it worked out for the best.”
Lashoff and the Lightning will practice at Boston University’s rink next week after a game with the Bruins. Lashoff said he still keeps in touch with veteran BU coach Jack Parker.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound offensive defenseman had 46 points his first two seasons with Kitchener before producing seven goals and 47 points in 2005-06 after the Bruins selected him 22nd overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Lashoff made the All-Rookie team in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins in 2006-07 and played most of the next season in Rhode Island. He played 46 games for Boston over the three seasons as a pro and couldn’t break through for a permanent role. Lashoff said he learned a lot and was around a lot of good people in the Bruins organization, in particular Don Sweeney, but never seemed to get a chance to be what the Bruins said they wanted him to be – an offensive defenseman. When he was called up, his job was more about not making mistakes for 8-10 minutes on the ice.
“I felt like I was always behind the eight ball,” Lashoff said. “There was always something they wanted to change. The last year and a half, it was getting frustrating on my part because I actually tried to start changing. My head was a mess. When the opportunity came to come here, it was a weight off my shoulders. I kind of got a clean slate. As soon as I came in here I had more confidence to play my game.”
Tocchet said Lashoff ha s shown the potential to make a consistently strong first pass out of the zone, which is something the Lightning has lacked all season.
Lashoff has fit right in on the power play. He worked his way to an open area at the point and got a shot through traffic that Ryan Malone deflected home for a power-play goal to tie Columbus in the third period Tuesday. The Lightning were 6 of 16 on the power play in Lashoff’s first games.
“There are elements to his game that are intriguing to us,” Tocchet said. “Now, it’s the other stuff. He has to get in the best shape he can over the summer and get a little more bite to his game. If he does those two things, I think you have an excellent chance for him to be a really good defenseman for us next season.”