There are a lot of things a player can control on and off the ice.
A birthdate is not one of them, though.
But while being born on Boxing Day means that the Owen Sound Attack’s Matthew Struthers had to wait a little longer to be eligible for the NHL Draft, he’s taking that uncontrollable fact and making the most of it.
“I think it’s a benefit,” Struthers said.
“Getting to play two years before my draft year in a league like this was good for me. It gave me some room to grow. Obviously my game is still a work in progress, but in my third year I feel I’m a little more seasoned than I was last year.
“It’s definitely a benefit.”
Of course, being one of the older kids in his draft class means that more is expected of him.
“I think there’s definitely a little more pressure,” he added. “I’ve been in the league longer than some of the other guys [in my draft class].”
Owen Sound coach Todd Gill said the late birthday can be an advantage for players — as long as they put the extra time to good use.
“I think it’s an advantage,” Gill said. “Obviously you get an extra year under your belt before your draft year. But he has to take advantage of it. He’s a big body and he needs to play with some size, and he needs to be on pucks hard.
“He’s done that at the start of the year, but he got hurt and he’s just getting back.”
In his rookie year, Struthers scored five goals and added eight assists in 47 games, and his first made him the youngest player ever to net one for the Attack.
Last year, he saw a modest gain in production, with nine goals and 19 points in 66 games.
This year, Struthers has scored eight goals and has 16 points in 29 games.
He explained that the game has changed for him since his early days.
“It’s just slowed down a bit. Maybe I got a little faster, bigger, and stronger,” he said.
“Obviously now I’m a little bit of an older guy in the league and you get to learn the pace of the game and the day-in-day-out routine — how I go about my everyday life is different than what it was when I was 15.”
The offensive totals might not pop.
But it’s what Struthers does throughout all 200 feet of ice that gets him noticed.
It’s that focus on all-around play that Struthers takes pride in.
“I see myself as a middle-six centreman that can be a shutdown guy — put some offense in,” he said. “I definitely want to be relied upon to be able to go take a d-zone draw and be able to just be trusted by the coach.”
He’s definitely got the leadership qualities to.
Struthers recently shaved his head for Cubs for Cancer, an Owen Sound-based initiative to raise funds for children’s cancer research.
He shaved off his locks, along with teammates Jonah Gadjovich, Sean Durzi, and Jacob Friend, and he said he did it to support a community that has supported him so much.
“It’s just about giving back,” Struthers said. “I know that would mean a lot to the kids and we raised about $27,000 so far. It means a lot to me. I don’t know any kids who have, but I think I would know what it would be like to go through it and any little thing that I can do to help is awesome.
“It’s really important. It’s a small community, but Owen Sound has been so good to the players, the fans are great. So giving back? Any chance I’m going to jump all over it.”
Gill said actions like that displays what kind of person Struthers is.
Regardless of the age on his birth certificate.
“It just shows his character and what he believes in,” Gill said. “At that age, it’s a pretty tough thing to do to go around with no hair on your head — it’s a little different. But he obviously has great character and that’s why he did it.”