A week ago, Taylor Matson and the Gophers fell 6-1 to eventual champion Boston College in their NCAA semifinal matchup.
Although visibly distraught in the locker room afterward, two days later Matson suited up for his first professional game with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks.
“It was a quick turnaround, but everyone thought it’d be better for me to start playing right away because I was in hockey shape,” Matson said. “It was definitely weird throwing on a different uniform besides the Minnesota colors, but [Chicago] has been great.”
Matson played on the fourth line for the Wolves and recorded one shot in his first career game Saturday night. He followed that up with an assist in his second game Tuesday.
Despite the quick transition, Matson said it was an easy decision to make the jump to the AHL.
Matson said the organization contacted him the day after the Gophers’ Frozen Four loss, and he signed an amateur tryout contract that Saturday. He suited up for the team later that night.
“I wanted to further my career and to keep playing hockey is always something I wanted to do growing up,” Matson said. “It was really simple for me — I want hockey to be my job.”
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said Matson contacted him before he signed the contract to get his opinion.
“He called me … and the big message I had for him was make sure it doesn’t jeopardize him academically,” Lucia said.
Matson is still on pace to graduate in May and has been finishing his classes online since he started with the Wolves less than a week ago.
He is taking three classes this semester, and professors have emailed him all of his assignments.
The Wolves’ regular season ends April 15, and the team has already clinched a playoff berth. Matson said he is unsure whether he will make the playoff roster at this point.
“He has to find a way to earn the coaches’ trust,” Lucia said, “but I think his teammates and coaches will be impressed with how hard he works.”
Matson said that he has always prided himself on playing with intensity and that the coaching staff with Chicago has already taken notice.
“They see me as a high energy player,” Matson said. “I’m just going to outcompete and outwork guys for the full 60 minutes.”
Matson said his transition has been made easier with the presence of former Gophers teammate Jordan Schroeder on the Wolves’ roster.
But he has still called Nate Condon, his former roommate and teammate who still plays for the Gophers, every night.
“It’s helped make it kind of a home away from home,” Matson said of his conversations with Condon. “I had some question marks coming in playing in the AHL, but he told me to keep working hard … and I’ll be fine.”
Matson will graduate in less than a month and is set to walk May 10 with the rest of the senior class. If he makes the playoff roster, the Wolves’ playoff run could overlap with his graduation from the University of Minnesota.
He said he would cross that bridge if necessary but hinted that coming home to graduate is very important to him.
“I think graduating from the University of Minnesota is something you need to be there to walk for, and it’s always something I’ve planned on doing before [joining the AHL],” Matson said. “It’s my biggest priority, and if I can take care of that, everything hockey-related will take care of itself.”
The Chicago Wolves will wrap up the regular season with back-to-back-to-back games this weekend.
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