Mathieu De St Phalle has covered a lot of miles in his short hockey career, playing on some of the top programs in the country in the process. He grew up in Connecticut and played for the Mid Fairfield organization until the family moved to Detroit in his peewee major year. His dad was a former college and pro player and Mathieu was on skates at an early age. He loved it from the start. Like many young aspiring hockey players he would go to practice and travel on the weekends for games. He used his free time to shoot pucks into a net they had in their driveway or in the winter shoot pucks in the basement. When the family moved to Michigan, he had to figure out where he would fit into the country’s best pool of high end AAA programs in the greater Detroit area.
Mathieu explained, “Steve Dubinsky, the mission coach and former NHL player picked me for an All Star spring trip to Europe with a bunch of 2000’s from all over the country. The coach of our team was the Honeybaked 2000 coach Trevor Edwards. It was the combination of seeing a lot of the kids click on that trip and that Coach Edwards was building a great team in Michigan that we decided to play for Honeybaked that upcoming season. It turned out to be a great decision. Coach Edwards was excellent and we went on to win the Tier 1 U14 National Championship the following year.”
It was at the National Championship game as a Bantam Major that De St Phalle really made a name for himself among junior and college scouts.
At the end of the third period with only 3:14 remaining Zach Dubinsky of the Chicago Mission scored the first goal of the game to put the Mission up 1-0.
“There was only a few minutes left in the game and we were pretty shook up,” admitted De St Phalle looking back on the game.
“It didn’t look good . It went back and forth for two minutes with nothing went our way until we got a timeout with less than a minute left in the game. Coaches pulled the goalie and came up with a play but it turned out to be a complete scramble. The Mission got the puck and tried to clear it but Max Ellis kept it in and threw the puck into the corner. I raced after it as fast as I could and got to it before the Mission defenseman. I heard Calen behind me in the slot calling for it and I just threw it in that direction from between my legs. I had no idea if it would get to him. Next thing I saw were their arms fly up and knew we just did the impossible.” Honeybaked had tied the game with 7.2 second remaining in the game. “It was truly incredible.”
Regulation ended in a tie as did the first overtime. However, De St Phalle’s heroics were not yet complete. He deflected a point shot from Jacob Semik and poked home the rebound final to win the National Title in double overtime. It was a dramatic finish to a heated rivalry. Instead of Mathieu reflecting on the goal or his clever assist, the young talent thinks about the win and that game.
“That feeling of winning in a dramatic comeback is indescribable. I don’t know if a youth hockey rivalry will ever come close to that again. All the players in that game probably will tell you the same thing. It’s one they will remember and it’s hard for another game to come close to that excitement or intensity.”
After Bantams he knew he had a decision to make as to where he’d play his midget hockey. In an interesting twist, both he and teammate Bode Wilde decided to attend a hockey school near Chicago and play for the Mission organization, the team they both just defeated for the National Title the year before.
“It was a little awkward but not hard for Bode and I to go over to Mission. Midget is different than bantams because you combine birth years for the first time. We knew both teams were going to be very different. We also all knew each other from spring teams and there was respect between the players. By the end of the season we had developed great friendships with the players on the Mission.”
While the Bantam Championship game put his name on the map, De St Phalle was only 5’-5’/125 lbs at the time. Schools were reluctant to take a chance on him. Luckily for Mathieu, he had just the person to turn to; his father, the former NCAA standout Jaques De St. Phalle.
“My dad was a small forward out of Philadelphia who got recruited by RPI at 5’5” (which was unheard of back then) and became the leading scorer in the country. l got a lot of my determination from him. He left RPI in junior year and had to sit out a year per NCAA rules. That year the coach left and a new coach came in. He went from being a star to sitting out a lot. He faced adversity and taught me that hockey is full of challenges. You can’t let it defeat you; you need to make it motivate you.”
The small speedy forward took his father’s advice. Mathieu took his game to another level that next season with the Chicago Mission. The Mission were among the top teams in the country all season long. He played on their top line all season and finished the year as one of their leading scorers.
Mathieu’s coaches soon shared with him that USHL and NCAA coaches were inquiring about him. However, it wasn’t until January that coaches started reaching out. De St Phalle heard from several highly regarded programs and coaching staffs but he wasn’t ready to make any decisions at that point. In the spring, he was drafted in the fourth round of the USHL Futures Draft by the Sioux City Musketeers.
“I knew a few teams had interest but I had no idea up until Sioux City called where I would end up. I went to the camp this summer and it was one of the best experiences I have had in hockey. I really like coach Varady and the staff; they made us feel part of the team. The rink and their fans are incredible. I look forward to playing there in the future.”
After the Draft and USHL camp, he focused his attention on the Select 16 National Development Camp in Buffalo, NY. It was De St Phalle’s second consecutive trip to the camp.
“I love the friendships I made. The coaches I have and the time I spent there are great; but it is a tough camp. You have a lot of great, competitive athletes who all want to prove themselves and get the puck. It’s not like playing on your winter teams where you are all working for each other to make plays. The coaches try to reign it in, but it can be organized chaos at times.”
He was one of the better players and ended the week with an impressive 2-2-4 line in 5 games. After the camp Tony Granato, the new Wisconsin boss expressed interest in Mathieu. Unlike the attention he had received before, he knew this was where he wanted to go to school.
“The tipping points for me were Coach Granato, the hockey history and the academics at Wisconsin. Coach Granato was the type of player I aspire to be. Now, he’s a well-respected coach with a commitment and passion to turn the program around. The rich hockey tradition and high quality education at Wisconsin just sealed the deal for me.”
When asked what kind of player the fans of Wisconsin can expect to see. De St Phalle thinks of himself as a team player first and foremost. “I like making plays and playing with great line mates who move the puck. I try to be creative in the corners and get D moving to find an opportunity to score. I also try to help out defensively and battle hard along the wall.” He wants to improve his open ice skating and understands that, at his size, he’ll need to work twice as hard as the next guy to have success at the next level.
Lastly, as is custom at Neutral Zone we ask each player to reflect on their recruiting process and give advice to the next group of players coming up through the ranks. De St Phalle suggested:
“Don’t worry about other kids and who is or isn’t committing. It’s a huge decision and you have to wait for the right fit .Some players develop faster than others, it’s not a measure of how good you are. Your time will come as long as you keep getting better.”
Mathieu is the first forward committed for the Class of 2019 joining two defenseman who were National Development Camp All Star selections in Brady Smith and Joshua Ess.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/ Hickling Images