Long Islander Matt Anderson grinds, delivers, waits for a chance
by David Satriano/NYHJ Writer
Growing up on Long Island in the 1980s, you were either a huge fan of the Islanders and their dynasty, or too young to appreciate it.
For Albany Devils forward Matt Anderson, it was the latter.
The 30-year-old Anderson (West Islip, N.Y.) was just a toddler when the Islanders won their four Stanley Cups from 1980-83. He didn’t grow up in a hockey family and couldn’t recall what made him pick up the sport.
“I’m not really sure exactly what it was, but me and my dad started playing at the same time,” he said. “I don’t know if we saw it on TV, but we kind of picked it up at the same time, started skating together and just kind of went from there.
“In 1994, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup; there were tons of kids playing hockey in the streets and it kind of just took off from there.”
Anderson learned the game pretty quickly and played four seasons of Division 1 college hockey at the University of Massachusetts, from 2002-07, missing the 2003-04 campaign while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He also missed time with a leg injury, but showed his scoring touch when healthy, notching 91 points over his career.
“I was kind of up-and-down throughout my four years at school,” he said. “Two pretty bad injuries, so coming back from both of those was definitely a bit challenging. … I definitely didn’t know what to expect once it all wrapped up my senior season. But I was fortunate enough to get picked up by the (AHL’s Chicago) Wolves and made the most of my situation there. I was going to make the most of whatever I got. That’s the attitude I’ve kept throughout the years.”
Despite helping the Wolves to a Calder Cup in 2008 and playing well in his three seasons there, he never made it to the NHL and wasn’t re-signed by Chicago after the 2009-10 season. But Chicago’s loss was the Devils’ gain, as New Jersey signed Anderson, giving the organization a defensive and high-scoring forward.
Albany Devils coach Rick Kowalsky, who has been the coach all three seasons Anderson has been with the team, said defense was the biggest reason they acquired him.
“The first year he came in here, we didn’t know a lot about him,” said Kowalsky. “We knew he had had some success as a third-line center with Chicago and I think we went after him because of his defensive awareness and ability.
“He came in that first year (2010-11) and developed some chemistry with Adam Henrique, who was a rookie at the time. They were one-two in our scoring that year. I think Matt ended up with around 25 goals and had a good year for us, kind of emerged as an offensive guy for us.”
Anderson was at Devils training camp for two seasons, but he didn’t have very high expectations given his situation.
“My first training camp, I was actually injured, so I kind of knew I was going to be in the minors, in the hopes of one day getting an NHL contract,” he said. “Last season, I was in training camp pretty much the whole camp up until the last preseason game. At that point I was just looking to get the experience of being in training camp and meeting some of the other players, and possibly getting into a preseason game.”
He didn’t get into a preseason game. Although discouraged, he continued to put in his time in the minors.
“I really wasn’t sure with the Devils where I was on the depth chart, and just kind of put my time in worked hard and hope for the best,” he said. “Obviously, with the way the Devils do things, they are very loyal to their players and I’m putting my time in here and hopefully, somewhere down the road, I can be a guy that they can rely on.”
A concussion cut last season short for him, and it took longer than Anderson would have hoped to get back to top form. His friend and linemate, Henrique, was called up to the Devils and ended up a Calder Trophy finalist and a playoff hero, while Anderson remained sidelined.
He got off to a slow start this season but has picked it up since, with five goals and 12 points at Christmas, fifth-most on the team. He also leads the team in plus-minus (plus-8).
“I think last year, the second half of his season was a bit of a setback,” Kowalsky said. “Would he have maybe gotten an opportunity (with New Jersey)? It’s tough to speculate, but I think Matt is definitely a guy that is putting himself in a (good) situation.
“I know he just turned 30, but he’s only a six-year pro or so. He showed some good things and I think if he keeps going here and has a good year this year — obviously this is a unique year with the lockout — but he is definitely in the mix to potentially be a recall player.”
For Anderson, that would be a dream come true, because of how much time he has put in and how much he has been through with injuries.
“I think that I’m definitely going to enjoy it,” he said. “It has been a long ride for me. I had the injuries in college, the pro injuries. … I hope that day comes. It’s more for my family and all the people that have supported me along the way.”
Despite being older than most of his teammates, he has still learned from many of them, including Henrique and Jacob Josefson, who are both playing in Albany now because of the lockout.
“I think that it’s only been a blessing for me to be able to play with these guys,” he said. “They are incredible hockey players and great people. To learn from them and to help them, too, it’s just all positive.”
Anderson watched as Henrique and New Jersey made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. He is hoping he can get a chance to be the next “Henrique” for the parent club.
Kowalsky said Anderson has room for improvement, but is on the right path toward the NHL. “He’s been good. His five-on-five play has been excellent,” he said. “I think room for improvement for him is burying some of those chances he has and being better on the power play. He is right where he needs to be and he just has to keep working at it. He is still a guy we rely on in all situations. If he continues to get better and do the things that have made himself successful so far, he’s going to give himself an opportunity.”
Despite all the down moments, Anderson has dealt with everything like a professional.
“Having had the concussion and dealing with the post-concussion situation, and now coming back, I feel confident in my game and I am really looking forward to the opportunity ahead,” Anderson said.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New York Hockey Journal.