Matt DeBlouw has only played two years of junior hockey but with the journey he’s had, don’t call him a unschooled.
In fact, the Muskegon Lumberjacks forward is as experienced as a junior veteran.
Last season, DeBlouw went through the growing pains of playing for an expansion team in addition to the making the transition to junior hockey. A serious injury suffered three games into the season cost him three months and also made for a rough road for the then 17-year-old.
The Chesterfield, MI. product has had a much better experience this year, missing just two games and participating in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January. Despite the individual positives, the Lumberjacks have locked up last place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference and also saw the team make a coaching change midway through the year.
Although DeBlouw has been through a rollercoaster of emotions during his time in Muskegon, the highly touted NHL draft eligible centre would not have changed the two-year journey for anything.
“It’s been a great experience just because of how well the organization has treated us from day one,” DeBlouw said. “We have beautiful facilities in our rink and we can work out whenever we want—everything about it has been great.”
DeBlouw was highly sought after as the Lumberjacks selected the Michigan State commit with their second round pick in the 2010 USHL Entry Draft. He caught the eye of Muskegon management after leading his U18 Little Caesars team in points – all while being the youngest player on the team.
“It was pretty exciting [being selected by Muskegon] with every other USHL team being eight, nine hours away,” DeBlouw said. “Having my family come out to a lot of the home games made it a lot easier of a transition.”
Three games into his USHL career, the six-foot centre attempted to put an open ice hit on then-National Team Development Program centre J.T. Miller, rupturing his spleen in the process. DeBlouw would go on to spend six days in an Ann Arbor hospital with blood pooling in his stomach.
“At the it felt like I just got the wind knocked out of me and it didn’t really hurt; two hours later I’m in the hospital because of how much pain I was in,” said DeBlouw who would miss 26 games because of the injury. “It was pretty frustrating when it happened. Coach Patrick said I was playing really well before the injury, but I had to look past it and see how I was going to get better.”
Getting better was just what DeBlouw did upon returning to the Lumberjacks lineup. While he was no longer playing one of the top scoring lines, the new bottom-six role gave him a new perspective on the game.
“Coming back, it showed me another side to the game in being a solid third line guy and playing more defensively and not worrying about scoring,” said DeBlouw, finishing his rookie season with six points in 33 games. “That stint really got me stronger and has benefitted me this year with trying to score while still being focused on the defensive side of the game.”
This season, DeBlouw has been called upon to carry the Lumberjacks team – being placed in roles 18-year-olds do not typically find themselves in. He has been the first line centre and is playing on the first power play and penalty kill units the entire season. DeBlouw has lived up to the task and with three games remaining in the season has 32 points in 56 games.
He’s embraced the roles this season, taking them in stride.
“It’s definitely helped me out a lot this year as I didn’t play any of these roles last year, but it’s been a bit of a learning process,” DeBlouw said. “It’s been great opportunity though and now I know what to do in different situations down the road.”
Down the road consists of a stop at almost exact midpoint between Muskegon and his Chesterfield home. DeBlouw will join the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing, Mich. this fall. He admits current teammate and future Spartans teammate Travis Walsh had quite the influence on his decision. In addition to Walsh, Lumberjack teammate Joseph Cox is also headed to Michigan State next season.
“[Walsh] is a great teammate and told me all about Michigan State.” DeBlouw said. “I had offers from other schools, but Michigan State is close to home and they have great facilities so that’s really what I based my decision on.”
DeBlouw though is not looking that far ahead just yet as his injury had taught him about taking it one day at a time. This offseason, DeBlouw is looking to improve on his weaknesses and maintain his strengths.
“My strengths are my speed, playmaking ability, faceoffs, and work on special teams,” DeBlouw said. “I have been working on my strength and goal scoring ability.”
Assuming DeBlouw can continue to improve, there is no telling how far the road will lead him on his hockey journey.