01/27/2015 4:26 PM
By: Jacob Hall and Cody Loconte
Not all paths to hockey stardom are the same.
For Brampton Beast defenseman Mathew Maione, the journey began over a decade ago alongside friends and Markham Waxers AAA teammates Steven Stamkos, Cody Hodgson and Michael Del Zotto, and has taken more twists and turns than most.
Growing up in Unionville, Ontario, Maione was immersed in a hotbed of hockey talent, which from a young age began to turn heads from some of the top names in the game.
One of these individuals was feared power-forward and NHLer Gary Roberts, who Maione and his teammates met nearly half a lifetime ago at a local hockey camp during what would be a pivotal period in the youngster’s hockey career. Roberts has since moved on from the NHL to become one of the most recognized strength and conditioning coaches in hockey today, with many of his protégées having gone on to realize incredible success at all levels of the sport.
Maione is no exception. Although his road to hockey greatness has been different from that of his childhood comrades, the standout blueliner still trains with Roberts during the off-season with many of the same friends he grew up with. Standing at 5 feet, 10 inches tall and checking in at shade under 200 pounds, Maione has never possessed a prototypical NHL-defenceman build, despite bringing more than his share of dedication and effort to the ice with every shift.
When an NHL team didn’t draft Maione when he first became eligible, the smooth-skating defender didn’t stop pursuing his hockey dreams. Instead, Maione headed to the University of Prince Edward Island to further develop his skills and mature both on and off the ice. He suited up for all 112 games the Panthers played over his four-year university career, amassing 65 points (9 goals, 56 assists) and a plus-24 rating, in addition to earning a Bachelors of Science undergraduate degree. Through hard work and dedication, Maione became a stabilizing force on the UPEI blue line, even earning himself a spot on the Team Canada roster for the 2013 International University Sports Federation games hockey team during his senior year.
The opportunity gave the Italian-Canadian the chance of a lifetime; to don the storied Red and White Team Canada jersey and lead his team wearing the 'A' as an alternate captain to the gold medal final against Kazakhstan.
“We were the last event of the entire Games, with the closing ceremonies right after,” recalls Maione. “All of the Canadian athletes from the CIS were there to cheer us on, and the environment was unlike anything else I have ever played in front of. As a hockey player, it was one of the biggest moments of my life.”
After advancing through the semis by beating a heavily favoured Russian squad, which included eight pro players loaned from the KHL, the pressure was on Team Canada to bring home the gold medal. Maione can still recall the atmosphere in the dressing room leading up to the start of the game.
“You could hear a pin drop. I was one of the younger guys on the team, but some of the guys who were finishing school, they knew this was their last time to play high-level hockey. We were pretty quiet and reflective, as we thought about not just the tournament but our entire journey to that point. Obviously it’s not the Olympics or anything, but it was OUR Olympics. Some guys were never going to play again after that, so they were absolutely giving it their all out there. It was a big eye opener.”
As he has done throughout his entire career, Maione led by example, scoring the eventual game-winning goal in the first period of play en route to a dramatic 6-2 victory for the Canadians. It is a moment that will be etched into Maione’s memory and the history of University and Atlantic Canadian sports forever. The speedster would finish the tournament with five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in six games, playing against the opposition’s top line every night.
The experience thrust Maione into the spotlight of professional hockey, and suddenly he had some decisions to make. Teams saw that he could handle the pressures of playing on the big stage, while maintaining his speed and trademark composure with the puck.
Following the end of his University playing career, Maione signed a contract with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets, skating in the team’s final 11 regular season games in addition to 11 playoff contests and contributing seven assists. The defenseman became a free agent during the summer of 2014, and the Beast jumped on the opportunity to bring in a local talent with a proven ability on the ice.
While the deal brought Maione home to the GTA, it also gave him a chance to prosper on an up-and-coming team. The young blueliner hasn’t disappointed. Maione leads all Beast defenceman in scoring with seven goals and 18 points through 32 games, and is tied for fifth in league scoring for rookie defenceman throughout the ECHL.
Despite finally inking a professional contract to play hockey, and the wave of success that has come with it in the first half of the Beast season, Maione’s work ethic hasn't changed one bit. He is consistently one of the last members of the Beast off the ice at every practice, continues to develop his hockey skills as a true student of the game, and credits his speed to his on-ice instructor who goes simply by the name of Wheels.
Maione is playing a big role on a growing team fighting for the playoffs, and he doesn’t look out of place whatsoever. Although his road to hockey greatness has been different than that of his childhood friends, the Toronto native’s future looks brighter by the shift.