Cana­di­ans cap­tain York-bound

Lively’s Matt Neault to lace up with univer­sity team while en­rolled in health stud­ies

The Sudbury Star - - SPORTS - BEN LEE­SON THE SUDBURY STAR blee­son@post­media.com Twit­ter: @ben_lee­son

It has never been Matt Neault’s style to let the game come to him, but that’s ex­actly what hap­pened last month.

The Lively na­tive and re­cent­ly­grad­u­ated Ray­side-Bal­four Cana­di­ans cap­tain had turned down op­por­tu­ni­ties to fur­ther his ca­reer in the United States and had all but set­tled on play­ing in the Greater Metro Hockey League, which ac­cepts 21-yearolds, while study­ing fire­fight­ing, when an un­ex­pected text caused him to change his plans.

“About a week and a half ago, I’m sit­ting at camp and I get a text mes­sage,” re­called Neault, reached at home on Wed­nes­day.

It was from Russ Her­ring­ton, head coach of the men’s hockey team at York Univer­sity in Toronto. Neault had spo­ken to Her­ring­ton a few times dur­ing Ray­side’s run to the NOJHL fi­nal this past spring, but hadn’t fig­ured much would come from those con­ver­sa­tions right away.

“He asked me what I was do­ing for hockey, then we got talk­ing more and more and he of­fered me a spot on their team,” Neault said.

“It was a sim­ple choice for me. I have al­ways had that dream of play­ing univer­sity hockey af­ter ma­jor ju­nior didn’t work out, so it was just a no-brainer to take that spot with York.”

Neault plans to take health stud­ies at York. He still has a long-term goal of fight­ing fires.

“I have been in con­tact with a cou­ple of fire chiefs and they have told me with what I’m get­ting out of York Univer­sity, just go get a de­gree and then, when I ap­ply for fire­fight­ing jobs, that de­gree will help out a lot.”

Praised for his heart and hus­tle through 268-game ju­nior ca­reer, Neault set a record last De­cem­ber for the most reg­u­larsea­son games in NOJHL his­tory. He had his best-ever of­fen­sive out­put in 2018-19, with 21 goals and 28 as­sists in 56 games.

Neault added nine points in 18 games dur­ing Ray­side’s trip to the NOJHL cham­pi­onship, where they lost a hard-fought se­ries to the Cochrane Crunch.

Neault called it the best sea­son of his hockey ca­reer, even if it didn’t end as he hoped.

“It was just a great group of guys and we were re­ally close as a team,” he said. “Mak­ing it so far, but com­ing up short, it kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but I wouldn’t change it for any­thing, with the group of guys we had.”

He may get a chance for an­other deep run soon. York is com­ing off a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the OUA West in 2017-18 and is ex­pected to ice an­other strong squad this fall.

Neault hopes his work ethic, en­ergy and penalty-killing abil­ity will help him earn ice time as a rookie.

“I know, com­ing in as a firstyear guy, I won’t be played as much as I want to, but I’m go­ing to take that role as an en­ergy guy, help out the team as much as I can and hope­fully, win a cham­pi­onship.”

York is to open its reg­u­larsea­son sched­ule against the Univer­sity of Toronto on Oct. 3.

BEN LEE­SON/SUDBURY STAR

Ray­side-Bal­four Cana­di­ans' Matt Neault stands in front of Cochrane Crunch goalie Shayne Bat­tler dur­ing NOJHL ac­tion at Chelms­ford Arena on Satur­day, April 14, 2018.

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