When Toronto Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews graced the timelines of hockey twitter last night, the focus of the people was clear. An article profiling Matthews had just been published in Canadian men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine Sharp. The fashion involved in the shoot was, to say the least, loud.
While this is the most notorious example of the outfits that made their rounds last night, it certainly wasn’t the only one. Several photos from the article that made its rounds on Twitter last night, many of which ignited playful debates on the curious nature of Matthews’ (and Sharp Magazine‘s) choices in fashion. People were quick to liken Matthews’ outfits to everything from Harry Potter’s Quidditch uniforms to Captain Hook to sleeping bags. The meme potential was seemingly endless.
Make no doubt, it was a fun time. However, lost amongst all of the roasts and playful jabs was the meat of the article itself; a chance to get to know a player who, up until this point, has had to maintain a quieter lifestyle under the watchful eye of former GM Lou Lamoriello.
That, however, appears to be changing in short order. If you don’t believe me, look no further than this:
Forget for a moment the extra-long jackets and spearmint gum-colored sleeping bags draped over Matthews’ shoulders. The goods here have somehow remained buried, and it’s time we uncover them and all of the spoils they carry.
On the ice, Auston Matthews is entering another season where he’s looking to take his game to another impossibly high level. That’s what Matthews does; he challenges the limits of our wildest dreams and, alongside new teammate John Tavares, the duo may very well shatter our highest expectations once again.
What we’re beginning to see, however, is that Matthews’ drive to push the envelope is not at all limited to his career on the ice. Forget the captaincy; Auston Matthews is positioning himself to push the NHL into uncharted territory, and become an ambassador for what the league should strive to become.
When was the last time we saw a player explicitly call out hockey culture and the NHL’s marketing shortcomings? Hidden amongst these outfits has been the real Auston Matthews peeling back the tape that’s silenced him since being drafted first overall in 2016, and you’d better believe he’s got a lot to say. Here he is, echoing the cries that have come only from fans for far too long; that the NHL’s greatest stars are unknown and unmarketed. That casual fans may not even know of the eccentric personalities that may lurk in the shadows of their own teams, because they have never been given a platform where expressing themselves has been encouraged.
Author Alex Nino Gechiu echoes the same sentiments:
The anonymity of hockey players exists in stark contrast with the rest of major North American professional sports, and few have even tried to push the envelope. Other than Matthews’ current campaign, PK Subban has been one of the few dissenting voices aiming to propel hockey culture and hockey superstars into the mainstream.
This waxing poetically about Matthews, then, is not to discount the vital role that PK Subban has played – and continues to play – in trying to push the envelope to grow the game in non-traditional markets and amongst a more diverse fanbase. PK is hockey’s most prominent black superstar; nothing will ever take away from that, and his efforts should not be erased.
Subban, however, remains a Canadian and a household name north of the border. Auston Matthews is an American-born superstar born to a Mexican mother in the Sun Belt. He grew up playing hockey – and succeeding wildly – in a place where that never should have been possible.
His situation has likely been echoed by other kids across the United States, and has likely ended in failure rather than success. How many aspiring hockey players lost interest due strictly to a lack of resources in their geographical locations, or due to a lack of role models who proved those odds could be defied?
Enter Auston Matthews. He’s broken the mold; he’s proven it can not only be done, but that it can yield untold levels of success. If Matthews weren’t storming out of the gates to shatter the NHL’s conservative culture the second Kyle Dubas unmuzzled him, he’d have been making a dreadful mistake. But thankfully, here we are.
But where is here? What’s to be said about an up-and-coming NHL star who’s performed marvelously on the ice, but has yet to occupy a leadership position?
I don’t believe for a second that Auston Matthews doesn’t dream of wearing the C for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I think he wants it more than almost anything, save for bringing a Stanley Cup to the city of Toronto. That being said, I also don’t think it matters that Matthews remains without a letter to his name. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s stopped Matthews from already moving to achieve something even greater in the time being.
What we are seeing here is Auston Matthews positioning himself as a letter-wearing player for the entire National Hockey League, so to speak. And if what we’ve seen and read in this short while is any indication, he’s already very much earned that privilege. If this trend continues, Matthews won’t just be shattering records on the ice by the time he’s awarded the Leafs captaincy.
He may finally be ready to break out of the NHL’s quiet room, and into genuine stardom.