photo credit: Dinur Blum
SAN JOSE- The 2013-14 season has been far from a smooth transition for second year Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin. But after being a healthy scratch earlier in the season, the 26-year-old has now played in each of San Jose’s last 11 games.
Over that span Irwin has returned to his accustomed spot alongside veteran star defenseman Dan Boyle and has contributed at both ends of the ice.
“Confidence” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan on Irwin. “To consistently be in [the lineup] is a good thing for him. He’s produced some offense on the power-play, his shot, and the more success you have the better you feel. But for me his defending and puck retrievals and breakouts and that type of stuff have also really improved to the point where he’s got to feel good about himself.”
Despite playing in all 11 of San Jose’s playoff games during his rookie season a year ago, Irwin somehow ended up a healthy scratch in nine out of 10 games from Nov. 2 to Nov. 23.
Given his performance as a rookie, it was certainly puzzling that Irwin was so often the odd man out given the likes of Jason Demers, Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan weren’t exactly playing stellar hockey either on San Jose’s blueline.
However, the BC native is back playing consistently and looks close to, if not all the way back to the player he was down the stretch last season. He has seven points in these past 11 games and has seemed to clean up the mistakes in his own end.
“When you sit out, you see how much time you have” commented Irwin about being a healthy scratch. “I was rushing things and got away from my game. Worked on it while I was sitting out and watching.”
Was it hard to keep confidence level high being a healthy scratch?
“Just don’t get too down. You obviously wanna play, that’s why you play the game but we got seven D here that can play on any given night so it makes for a healthy competition amongst us all. I was the one sitting out [for awhile], my game wasn’t where it should have been. I just tried to work on it and get back in the lineup.”
Boyle, who also went undrafted, is quite familiar with the tribulations that his partner has had to go through this season.
“It’s tough, it’s mentally hard. [But] I tell the young guys that at some point most of us have gone through it” confirmed the longtime veteran. “There is probably a few exceptions, guys that never see those days but most of us have gone through it. You just got to stay strong mentally and believe in yourself. And I think that’s the hardest thing but you got to remember to trust yourself and believe in yourself and things usually end up working out.”
With Irwin back and Boyle feeling better and better after being knocked unconscious earlier in the season on a hit by Max Lapierre, the two finally seem to be feeling comfortable again as a defense pair.
“It hasn’t been a smooth year obviously” added Boyle. “Matty was out for a little bit, I was out and came back and obviously took a lot of time to get back to being myself again. It’s been a challenging year but we really enjoy playing with each other.”
And it’s nice to have that “Brentwood Bay Blast” (as Sharks play-by-play man Randy Hahn refers to it), back on the point, right Dan?
“Yeah, that’s one of his assets. You know he’s got a big shot, and he likes to shoot it. We need that, especially on the power-play, a guy that’s willing to take the shot when it’s there and he’s just a solid kid, solid player, good person.”
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