Matt Mahalak left home when he was 14, then moved again when he was 16. A few years later, he relocated, yet again, to a different country.
Those were a few of the steps Mahalak has taken to pursue playing hockey.
Over the summer, the Monroe resident relocated to Kingston, Ont., a six-and-a-half hour drive away from southeast Michigan. Traded from Plymouth to Kingston in June, Mahalak, 20, has quickly established himself as the Frontenacs’ No. 1 goalie.
In 24 games, Mahalak is 13-9-1-1 with a 3.18 goals-against average and a .905 saves percentage for the Ontario Hockey League team, considered to be the top proving ground for the NHL, and earlier this month was named the Canadian Hockey League’s Vaughn Goaltender of the Week.
“My goal for Matt is to win every game he plays in,” Kingston coach Todd Gill said. “Realistically, that may not happen, but you want your top goalie to play that way every night.”
Being the No. 1 goalie in Kingston was the lure for Mahalak, who spent the previous three seasons with the Whalers. At the end of last season, he’d been supplanted as the Whalers’ No. 1 goalie in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic, who started 14 of the Whalers’ 15 playoff games and who is considered to be one of the top prospects in the 2014 NHL draft.
“My time there pretty much ran its course,” said Mahalak, who exercised a no-trade clause with Plymouth. “Every team [in the OHL] has three overage players, so it just turned out that Kingston was going to be a much better fit for me. When the trade was offered, I was made aware that Kingston was interested, so I approved it. It worked out great. I’ve had an absolute blast here.”
Mahalak wanted a chance to be the No. 1 goalie for an OHL team. Having a no-trade clause in his contract with the Whalers, Mahalak explained, gave him the chance to consider his options as far as joining another team, as opposed to not having any input.
“Any time you can have a no-trade clause put into a contract, it gives you a lot more power, more than you would have otherwise,” Mahalak said. “You can pick and choose where you can go, if you want to go anywhere at all. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have to use it or not, but I used it to my advantage to go to Kingston.”
That meant that Mahalak packed his bags again. Six years ago, he went to Culver (Ind.) Military Academy and played hockey, then moved to Youngstown, Ohio, to play in the United States Hockey League. In 2010, he joined Plymouth.
“Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to get away from family and friends,” Gill said. “When you’re seven or eight hours away from home, you’re thinking hockey, hockey, hockey. There’s no distractions. When you’re closer to home, you might have those distractions.”
Originally drafted in the sixth round by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, Mahalak went to the organization’s training camp two years ago but was re-assigned to Plymouth. Because he did not sign with Carolina within two years of being drafted, he plans to pursue professional hockey as a free agent following this season.
“If I can play well, hopefully I can put myself in a position to be picked up by a pro team,” Mahalak said.
His coach has a straightforward goal for Mahalak this season.
“For him, it’s to work hard every day,” said Gill, a 19-year NHL veteran. “Everybody tries to make this a lot tougher than it is, but it’s pushing yourself to be better each practice and every game. If you go in with that attitude, things will happen.
“He’s going to go a lot farther with that attitude rather than someone who is just showing up and not working.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.