As part of this new season of MIAA hockey, the pandemic has led to a very different reality for most high school athletes, especially the seniors. Obviously the rules and regulations are new, but for the 2021 senior class this is their last ride of high school competition. Some may not have another chance to play competitive hockey while others will be able to move on to play juniors, prep or even collegiately. There are lots of great storylines this season that we want to shed some light on and this time we are sitting down for a chat with Shrewsbury senior forward Matt Nuzzolilo. After a strong offensive season last year the Colonials made a nice run to the D1 playoffs, led by Nuzzolilo’s vision and ability to facilitate. Now in his final season, we talked to him about the long hockey tradition in Shrewsbury, preparing for the season during a pandemic and proving doubters wrong about how to succeed as a smaller player.
Let’s start with the obvious: what does it mean to you to get to play your senior year of hockey, even in the midst of this pandemic?
Playing my senior year means a lot, it’s crazy how it’s already my senior year. It feels like just a few days ago I was playing youth hockey. Even with the pandemic it is still fun to play, nothing like playing in front of the fans and all my friends but seniors and myself are trying to do our best to enjoy the year.
How has the team adjusted to playing during the pandemic and the new rules and regulations? Do those rule changes just fade away once you hit the ice?
At this point of the season we have already been practicing with all these rules pretty much since rinks opened back up in July. Even though the rules are so much different we just have to deal with them so we are able to have a season. With that being said it’s not really like there are a ton of things getting in the way and there is nothing else we can do, but it’s definitely the same as usual when we get on the ice.
This was an offseason like no other. What did you and your teammates do to stay in shape and train during the months before school started back up?
During the offseason my brother Anthony, who is a freshman, and my good friend and linemate Chris Allain spent all summer working out and shooting pucks every single day together. Collectively, my brother and Chris and I know that we put more work in than anyone in high school hockey. We shot 1,000 pucks six times a week and we worked out 5-7 days a week. We worked so hard for this season, including going to the field and doing sprints and flipping tires: you name it we did it. We did everything to put ourselves in condition for the season.
Coach Virtue took over last season and helped guide your team to the playoffs. How would you describe his coaching style and how is it different from your previous coaches?
Coach Virtue has a ton of playing experience as well as coaching experience, both at high levels of hockey. Coach Virtue had a different playing style and different systems than coaches that I’ve had before and I think that’s why our team is unique. We have a very different penalty kill than other teams as well as a unique forecheck and with these new playing styles it’s hard for the opposing team to defend or to plan anything against us.
You grew up in the Worcester area and Shrewsbury has a great hockey tradition. Can you describe that local hockey culture is like and do you remember what got you started playing hockey?
The hockey culture is pretty crazy in Shrewsbury, just about every kid I know plays hockey or has something to do with the sport and the fans are so passionate about it as well. My Dad was a great hockey player and when we were young at the age of 3 my Dad started to teach me and my brother to skate and we fell in love with the sport. We never went to any clinics, all our work was at public skates or at stick time trying to enjoy it and work on new things. That is one unique way I fell in love with hockey so much, there was no pressure. And that’s how I started off playing, just buzzing around Lake Ave rink a few times a week during a public skate.
Last year Shrewsbury reached the D1 Quarterfinals after a year where you had one of the best records in the state: what are some of the goals this senior class has set as we get deeper into the season?
The senior class is pretty large here at Shrewsbury and we haven’t had the best start to the year but we are slowly turning the ship around and we plan to just go in and have fun and play our games. We are hard workers who don’t want to lose and especially losing against our rival last year in the playoffs, we want revenge against all these teams just to show we aren’t that team, and we are better than we are playing. We’re playing for our respect.
For someone who has never seen you play hockey: how would you describe your game? Is there anything you are actively trying to work on?
If someone has never seen me play I would say I am very fast, I have good vision and I’m a hard worker, I can play any position needed. When I get the puck I can shoot and score but I can hit kids with passes for goals and I feel with my vision I can make it happen no matter the situation. Right now I’m just trying to be more accurate and work on putting the puck in the net more efficiently and more often. Once I get this down and get my confidence up with putting the puck in the net I don’t think there is much a defender can do to stop me.
From what we’ve seen, you’ve been undersized at every level you’ve played: have you had to combat doubters or prove people wrong in order to show them what you can do? Do you use it as motivation?
I have definitely had to prove a lot of people wrong, everyone says I won’t get to this or that point in hockey because of my height but in my eyes the game has evolved. Maybe 20 years ago I wouldn’t be as good but now the game is all about speed and moving the puck and it’s not as physical. But for a small kid I can get physical. I am fairly strong for my size and I think it’s a sweet taste to just prove the haters wrong. I use it as motivation just knowing someone is out there wanting to see me fail or saying I can’t do it.
Finally, do you plan to pursue playing hockey next season? Have you started thinking about what that might look like and where?
Next year I’m going to be playing juniors with the Northeast Generals. I played with their U16 teams a year ago and I practiced with them a few times this year and I feel like I would be a good fit there next year. The head coach Darryl Locke is a great guy. He has been coaching me since the U14 level and he has so much coaching experience and has been a key to my development in the past 3-4 years. I’m excited to start playing there and just see where it takes me.