While talking with Michael Matheson, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get very excited very quickly. He admits it freely.
“I’m not exactly … ” he said, laughing, “ … I mean, I have a really boring monotone voice, so nobody’s going to get fired up when I’m talking.”
And yet somehow this guy with a—to use his own words—boring monotone voice, wears the “C” on his chest heading into the Boston College men’s hockey team’s 2014-15 season. It turns out, there are more important things than a commanding verbal presence when it comes to leading a team.
Matheson has been on skates since before he can remember, growing up in Quebec with a sheet of ice laid in his back yard every winter.
“It’s always been hockey,” he said. “From the moment I could walk, I was on skates and stick handling in the back yard.”
As a kid, he watched Saku Koivu, a Montreal center who played for the Habs from 1995 until 2008. While he loved watching dynamic forwards like Koivu, as Matheson matured, his focus began to shift.
“Koivu was a big idol in our house,” Matheson said. “He was the captain in Montreal, so we really like him. I’ve always really idolized [Sydney] Crosby, and as I’ve gotten older and gotten to know the actual game better, I started to watch defensemen and model my game after them and see what they do. So I like watching, well I used to like watching Nick Lindstrom before he retired, and Kris Letang, too.”
Through his NHL heroes, he saw the strong skating and smart puck movement—skills that, as a defenseman, he is constantly seeking to improve.
When it came time for Matheson to pick a college program, he went from visit to visit—five in a row. He was unfamiliar with American schools, and each program looking more impressive than the last. When Matheson reached BC, though, he knew that it would be the right fit because of the people he encountered, both future teammates and coaches.
What made BC’s coaching staff so right for Matheson is a characteristic that he speaks of pervasively, no matter what question you ask him.
“It’s something that Coach York talks about every single day, just working on your craft and trying to get better, so if you do that, you’re going to have a lot of success,” he said.
Two sentiments ring through from Matheson’s description of York’s coaching style. First, there is the element of hard work. Then, there is consistency.
As happens with almost any sophomore selected in the NHL Draft and capable of an NHL career, last year there was a large amount of uncertainty buzzing around whether or not Matheson would return for his third season at BC.
When asked the question, though, his answer flows easily.
“I just didn’t see the point in rushing, really,” he said. “One of the big things that I figured is if I’m able to make the jump to the NHL, I want to be completely ready so I can have an impact and I can stay there. I think that I’ll benefit a lot from coming back here for another year and working on my craft where I’m in an environment that I’m used to, and a bit of a slower pace where I can work on the things that I still need to get better at.”
Despite the roughly 18 years of hockey under his belt, Matheson can still nail down a couple of key aspects of his game that need to develop more before he makes the next step. They are the skills that he admired in players like Letang and Lindstrom, especially the presence of mind to make better game-time decisions. Matheson’s still dedicated to putting in the work every day, just as York says, to help his team and give him a better chance at building a successful career when it comes time to leave BC.
“I’ll get caught trying to do too much once in a while,” Matheson said. “And if you do that at a higher level you’ll be in big trouble, so I think I’ll benefit from being here and working on that to, I wouldn’t say perfect that area because nobody’s perfect, but get better in it so once I try to make that jump I’ll be more successful.”
What that comes down to is being more mindful of the ice—seeing which plays are worth the risk and which aren’t.
“I’d have the puck sometimes and I’d see someone who was a little bit open and try to get it to them,” he said. “It would come into a balance of high risk, high reward. If you try to make that play and it works one time but the other nine it goes down the other way it’s really not that useful.”
Having made the decision to return to BC for at least one more season, Matheson was credited with what he expressed as “a cherry on top of all of it”—the cherry being the captaincy. While he was already grateful for the opportunity to simply attend BC and make an impact on the team, it meant even more that his peers saw him as someone to look to for leadership.
But hold on a minute—this is still the guy with the monotone voice, right? When it comes down to it, even that boring voice makes sense when it comes down to defining the type of leader Matheson is—a consistent one.
Take the consistency in his steady, calm, slightly invariable voice and put it on the ice, and you have a solid, dependable leader.
“I don’t think there is one specific thing that makes you a leader,” Matheson said. “It’s an everyday way that you act—just the way you act consistently, because that’s what makes true leaders. It’s not the people that rise when it’s a big situation then you don’t see them if its not. It’s the people that, on a day like today, they come down and they work as hard as they can, they’re ready for practice, and you just give that hundred percent effort every time that they go on the ice, they go in the gym, they’re in a meeting going over video, just that consistency.”
In his words you can find a maturity developed through years of work towards betterment in an area that he loves. While other players may take every opportunity to make jokes by, for instance, pressing their faces up against the glass while their captain is being interviewed, Matheson is more likely to—and in fact did—let out a chuckle and throw back a goodnatured quip about maturity than to be the one making the first goofy move. He acknowledges that his teammates most likely see him as a more serious figure.
“I’m just always kind of focused,” he said. “And I’m really dedicated to hockey and to school and I try to work hard in every aspect of my life so I think guys kind of see me as the serious guy.”
Matheson isn’t about to up and become a wild jokester just to get his teammates to think of him as a lighter character in his new role. Why? By now, you should have already gotten it: Consistency.
To Matheson, a leader is not somebody who is given a position, and then steps up only at that moment in a completely new way, altering his persona and how he acts in order to fill a role. It’s fake. It’s becoming something that you’re not, and that’s not the right example to set. True to this idea, he doesn’t see a huge change in how he has been acting in his new position from how he acted before the “C” was sewed onto the No. 5 jersey.
“Obviously when I was a freshman I was a lot more quiet,” Matheson said. “But I think that’s what people respect in a leader, is somebody that just stays the same and is always the same personality that they would be regardless of if they have a letter on their jersey or not.”
Like captains before him, Matheson has the added support of a network of captains, especially Tommy Cross, Pat Mullane, and Patrick Brown—the three before him—to look to for advice. Before the last school year even ended, the three alumni were contacting him and meeting with him, helping him gain an understanding of what to expect.
The message that came through most clearly was a simple one. Things aren’t always going to be great, and that’s when leadership becomes the most vital. In Matheson’s case, that means being the calm face when things are looking down, and setting the precedent that, if he can be calm and confident, so can everyone else.
Yes, the kid with the boring, flat voice is the one that his peers chose to lead BC’s hockey team this year, and when he speaks, he justifies their decision. He’s calm, collected, mature, and consistent. He hopes to exhibit leadership not by making big changes and stepping up only when he is desperately needed, but by being the same person every time he steps on the ice, into the locker room, or in a meeting.
Consistency does not mean that one remains stagnant. Rather, in Matheson’s case, it means a constant growth trajectory. And that, monotone as it may sound, is exciting.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor