Taking Liberties With… Matt Nieto
Position: Forward, Colorado Avalanche
Hometown: Long Beach
Last Amateur Team: Boston University (Hockey East)
Youth Hockey Teams: South Coast Sabres, Paramount Panthers, Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Long Beach Ice Dogs, LA Hockey Club
California Rubber: How gratifying was this season in Colorado with a team that exceeded many people’s expectations?
Matt Nieto: I was given a pretty good opportunity there. It was really nice and I took advantage of it. We had a great atmosphere throughout the season and the playoffs.
CR: Do you have a favorite memory from your time playing hockey in California?
MN: It would have to be all my years with LA Hockey Club. We had such a good team and so many good players who went far in the game. That made it fun every day. We competed hard every day. It was all led by Sandy Gasseau. He was huge for my game, and he really took me to the next level. We’re still close friends to this day.
CR: Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the game after leaving California?
MN: My time on the U.S. National Team Development Program was a lot of fun. What was special about that was all the guys on the team were on the same age. We spent two years together working hard every day toward a common goal – the Under-18 World Championships. We were fortunate enough to win that. All our hard work paid off.
CR: This season, you tallied your first NHL hat trick. Talk about that.
MN: That was an awesome experience. The guys were all happy for me. A lot of guys go their whole careers in the league without having a hat trick.
CR: What is your offseason routine like?
MN: After a few weeks off, I ease back into the gym. A pretty typical summer includes training a lot, then later in the summer getting on the ice and doing some skill work with Alex Kim. I’m also getting married this summer, so I’m super excited about that. We got engaged last summer.
CR: What piece or pieces of gear are you most particular about?
MN: I’m really simple about equipment. I wear the same stuff I got when I first started out in the league – same shin pads, same shoulder pads. It’s the same thing with the stick. I know what I like but I never change from it.
CR: When you’re home in the offseason, what is your favorite place to eat?
MN: In-N-Out. We don’t have them in Colorado. I take advantage of that. There’s tons of great places in SoCal. There’s a Mexican place I like called Javier’s in Newport Beach. Those are the ones I miss the most during the season.
CR: Did you have a favorite player and team growing up?
MN: My favorite player was Paul Kariya when I was a kid. I used to watch Ducks games all the time when he and (Teemu) Selanne were together. I loved the way he played. When I was watching him, I was a smaller player. He was so much fun to watch.
CR: What is one thing that might surprise people about being an NHL player?
MN: I think the hardest thing is the grind of it. It sounds easy when you just hear we take chartered planes, play games and eat nice meals. But the grind and how hard you have to work, it really takes a toll on you. These players whose teams are still in the playoffs, their bodies are broken down, and they’re battling through it. They’re going to war every other night and I guarantee you they’re all hurting.
CR: If you weren’t playing hockey for a living, what would you be doing?
MN: I would either want to be doing something in finance or nutrition, helping athletes with sports nutrition. I like reading up on the latest things that are healthy and good for recovery.
Photo/Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images
– Compiled by Chris Bayee
(July 17, 2018)