Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Matt Calvert (11) shoots past Winnipeg Jets defenseman Mark Flood (36) in NHL action on Nov. 12 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (TRIBUNE MEDIA MCT)
At first glance, Matt Calvert’s second season of professional hockey looks like a step back from his first, but the 22-year-old Brandonite believes it will make him a better player in the long run.
The former Brandon Wheat Kings co-captain became somewhat of a sensation after earning a mid-season call-up to the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010-11. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound left-winger provided the Jackets with a jolt of energy, scoring 11 goals and 20 points in 42 games, including a hat trick against the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 25, 2011.
He started the 2011-12 season in the NHL but never managed to recapture the magic of his rookie season, finishing with three assists in 13 games and spending the bulk of his season in the American Hockey League with the Springfield Falcons.
"At the time, I think (being sent to the minors) was just to get my confidence back and after that it was just ‘work on your game,’’’ said Calvert, who finished sixth on the Falcons in scoring with 17 goals and 36 points in 56 games. "I got to play in all situations down there, so it was awesome for my development. Obviously you want to be in the NHL anytime you can, but it was a real good finish to the year. I found my game probably about halfway through the year and I finished off strong, so I’m definitely real happy with that."
Calvert produced six goals and 14 points in his final 14 games in Springfield along with a solid plus/minus of +4 in that stretch for a team that finished outside of the AHL playoffs. That strong finish has him confident that he can be a productive player in the NHL again.
"In pro hockey, there’s a lot of ups and downs," he said. "If you go straight to the NHL, it’s a pretty fortunate thing. But for myself, I really believe where I ended up this year was where I needed to be at the time."
The season wasn’t just a trying one for Calvert. Columbus struggled right off the bat, prompting the team to fire head coach Scott Arniel midway through the season, replacing him with Todd Richards. With it clear the playoffs weren’t in the cards for the third straight season, the club was a seller at the trade deadline, unloading veteran forward Jeff Carter, among others.
"It was definitely a tough year and I don’t think anybody expected what this year brought," Calvert said. "We thought we had a good team but sometimes the chemistry of different guys just doesn’t work out. But I think the organization is definitely trying to turn things around here and I believe we’re going a little younger and trying to bring some fresh faces in, but I think everybody’s excited about it. … I think the possibilities are endless for us next year if we all just go in and work as hard as we can."
Calvert said veterans like James Wisniewski are getting the ship headed in the right direction, checking in on the younger players to make sure they’re putting their work in over the off-season.
That’s not something Calvert needs to be reminded about as he knows full well the opportunity that’s in front of him as the Jackets look for young players they can build around for their future.
"I’ve definitely got a shot at the roster next year and that’s what I’m working towards right now," he said. "I’m really excited about it. I’m pretty happy with the position I’m in."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 12, 2012