Taking Liberties With… Matt Ford
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Position: Forward, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Hometown: West Hills
Last Amateur Team: University of Wisconsin (then WCHA)
Youth Teams: Marina Cities Sharks, West Valley Wolves, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (Minn.)
California Rubber: Can you tell us about your family’s deep history in hockey in California?
Matt Ford: My grandfather was one of the first presidents of Bay Harbor. My grandpa and dad played goalie, and my dad still does twice a week into his 60s. I grew up wanting to play goalie, and I did it in roller. I wouldn’t say I excelled. It was my opportunity to change gears.
CR: Do you ever get the urge now?
MF: As I get older, I don’t want to get hurt. In high school or college when we had free days, I might do it.
CR: What is your favorite hockey memory growing up?
MF: In my first year of Pee Wees, we (West Valley) won the Pacific District and went to the AA Nationals in Lakewood (in 1998). We made it to the national championship game against a team from New York and lost 2-1. Our team was pretty special. Last season, 17 years later to come back and play in California (with Bakersfield of the AHL) was just unbelievable to play in front of friends and family. My grandma, who was in her mid-90s, was able to come to a game. To have extended family at games in San Diego and Ontario and see me play at home in Bakersfield, it was pretty special even if they were cheering for the Kings’ or Ducks’ farm teams.
CR: What is your favorite memory since leaving California?
MF: Winning championships in my senior year of high school at Shattuck and my sophomore year at Wisconsin are. The unique bond both teams share stands out. I don’t know if it’s we won because we were so close or we were so close because we won. It’s pretty cool how guys have stayed close. We had our 10-year anniversary at Wisconsin for the 2006 team last summer. It was the first time all of us have been back together.
CR: Who have been the biggest influences on you on and off the ice?
MF: Definitely my mom (Kasey) being my biggest fan and supporting me. Growing up in California to get on the ice as much as I did it was a team effort from both of my parents. My dad (John) helped coach me. To this day, at 32 years old, I look to him when I have questions, whether it’s parenting in the middle of the night or about the hockey game. On the ice, the guys I played with at Wisconsin. I learned to play a two-way hockey game. Adam Burish was a really good leader for us. He showed a lot of us how to handle yourself, both with success and failures. The 2003 Shattuck team, playing with Sidney Crosby even though he was 15. I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of special hockey players, but the details in his game and his hockey IQ were at a different level even at that age. If you’ve heard the phrase ‘You can’t give a good hockey player a bad pass,’ he was the epitome of that. He could be skating full speed and catch a pass 10 feet behind him, 10 feet in front of him or 10 feet in the air.
CR: What advice would you give young hockey players?
MF: Just enjoy it, take it all in. Hockey has given me so many great things. I’ve gotten to travel around with my closest friends. I’ve supported my family. I owe so much to it. Growing up, my parents wanted me to play other sports, so I played lacrosse and Little League baseball. It’s important to play other sports. So many kids can get burned out doing hockey 24/7. In California, you have the opportunity to do so many other things.
CR: When you’re back in California, do you have a favorite meal or restaurant?
MF: Going to In-N-Out is at top of my list. The other place is a local Mexican restaurant near my parents’ house called El Pollo Amigo. That’s always a must-have when I come back home.
CR: Are there are any pieces of gear you’re particular about?
MF: For most guys, it’s skates and sticks. It’s weird – I’ve made very few changes to my sticks since I was 14, 15 years old. I was playing youth hockey in California when I started using the curve I do now. I don’t change shin pads or elbow pads. Most I’ve had my whole pro career. They’re new in that they’re being remade every year, but I’m sure our trainers would rather give me new stuff.
CR: What are essential items to take on a road trip?
MF: Getting into my 10th year of pro hockey, recovery is part of the game. I take recovery boots with me. It’s a compression machine that helps with circulation in my legs. I do whatever I can to give myself a step up in recovery. An iPad. We spend a lot of time on the road, so having Netflix, Hulu helps.
CR: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
MF: I always loved watching Adam Oates play – I was nothing like him – his vision the way he saw the game. It was pretty cool playing a game in Stockton last season and running into him. I was a little star struck. Any kids my age that played hockey in L.A. would also be a Luc Robitaille fan. He dropped the puck in Ontario and I was taking the faceoff as one of the captains. That was a pretty cool opportunity.
Photo/Mark Newman/Grand Rapids Griffins
— Compiled by Chris Bayee