SAN JOSE – It’s become something of a social media joke in Bay Area sports circles to refer to Maple Leafs captain Auston Matthews as a “San Ramon native”, mainly because the No. 1 overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft moved to Arizona with his family when he was just an infant. (At least it’s a joke for this writer, who called the San Francisco suburb home for 20 years.)
So it came as a bit of a surprise at NHL All-Star media day in San Jose when Matthews was quick to acknowledge his Bay Area roots.
“I was actually born pretty close to here, so it’s nice to come back,” the Toronto forward told the media on Thursday.
Again, the 21-year-old only spent the first couple of months of his life in the Bay Area suburb. So suffice to say, he doesn’t remember much of it.
“I didn’t spend much time (here) when I was born here, but it’s definitely an exciting weekend to spend with some of the best players in the league and my family,” said Matthews, who has only visited the Bay Area twice since coming into the NHL since the Maple Leafs visit the Sharks once a season.
While he may not be as familiar with his birthplace, Matthews is well-acquainted with one of its former residence – ex-Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, who became Matthews’ teammate at the start of the 2017-18 season.
“We love Patty,” Matthews said without hesitation. “He’s obviously a special player. He’s a future Hall of Famer.”
Marleau is nearly two decades older than the Leafs’ captain, and Matthews admits to looking up to him. Not just on the ice where Marleau has helped set Matthews up for a number of goals, but off the ice as well.
“He’s really helped me – myself and (Mitch) Marner are really close with him,” Matthews admitted. “Just his presence in the locker room every day – he’s such a calm presence. Never gets too high, never gets too low. I think that’s something good for us young guys to look at.”
Matthews is participating in his third consecutive All-Star Game, having made the squad in all three seasons he’s been in the league. 2019’s game marks the first time he will serve as captain for the Atlantic Division team, which includes Maple Leafs teammate John Tavares. (Yes, the same John Tavares who almost became a member of the Sharks last summer and was booed by Sharks fans during the media day festivities.)
While Matthews may not have many memories of his time in the Bay Area he’s more than happy to be here for the weekend – especially considering the forecast that is expected to continue through All-Star weekend.
“It’s nice to have some warm weather,” Matthews said with a chuckle. “The last couple of weeks have been pretty cold in Toronto.”