Gary Shuchuk on Kings’ D-Man Matt Roy: “He Just Wanted to Learn”

Feb 20, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Kings defense Matt Roy (3) in the first period against the Florida Panthers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Kings defense Matt Roy (3) in the first period against the Florida Panthers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

From one former member to a future one, Gary Shuchuk reflects on his experience coaching Matt Roy and helping him prepare for life with the LA Kings family.

It is not every day that a player plays for a coach who happened to suit up for the team that drafted them. For the LA Kings, they have a couple of these instances. First, before he began his pro career, Jaret Anderson-Dolan played under Adam Deadmarsh with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. Another example is Matt Roy, who played under Gary Shuchuk at Michigan Tech in his third and final season with the school.

Due to COVID protocol, Roy has missed the last seven games for the Kings. However, that was probably the only thing that has slowed the defenseman down this season as he is set to return to the Kings lineup very soon. The anticipated return, however, couldn’t come soon enough as the Kings went 2-5-0 in Roy’s absence and 3-8-1 without him this season.

Still, fresh off a deserving contract extension, Matt Roy is enjoying a breakout year. So, while going from a 7th-round draft choice to a full-time NHLer is no easy feat, such an accomplishment can be attributed to a lot of things, including a successful collegiate career.

I recently spoke with former Michigan Tech assistant coach, the aforementioned Gary Shuchuk, about Roy’s career with the Huskies, their conversations about life and hockey in Los Angeles, and the tireless work ethic that got the blueliner to where he is today.

First Impressions of Roy

When Shuchuk joined the Michigan Tech coaching staff in 2016, Roy had already played two seasons for the school. Still, the former King’s impact on the youngster was nonetheless resonant. So, what were Shuchuk’s first impressions of Roy?

“Personally, Matt was a very quiet person, so it was hard to get a read off him at first,” Shuchuk admitted. “He didn’t really say much. He led by example even though he was an upper-classman at Michigan Tech. But, he wasn’t very vocal, so it took me a while to sit down and talk to him one-on-one and really get to know Matt as a person. Once that happened, more trust came between us. He was very reserved, he keeps things internally, but that’s just who he is and I think he’s the same way in L.A.”

While getting to know Roy took some time, Shuchuk felt that the wait was worth it. When the two did get to know each other, the former NHLer learned first-hand just how dedicated a student Roy was.

“The biggest thing that I learned from dealing with him early was that he was like a sponge,” Shuchuk remembered. “He just wanted to learn. He took critique, he took teaching very seriously. If I came up to him and said to him that I’m a forward working with the D, I’ve been around some great defensemen and I’ve learned a lot, he never backed off at all. He took my instruction. He was a true professional. He just wanted to get better and that was key.”

Of course, Shuchuk wasn’t surprised by his defenseman’s enthusiasm. After all, upon his arrival at Michigan Tech, the Edmonton native heard nothing but positive things from the program’s head coach.

“That’s one thing that Mel Pearson told me about him in his first few years at Tech: he wanted to get better, he wanted to always be on the ice, and it showed,” Shuchuk added.

An Unflappable Sense of Determination

By the time his junior season began, Matt Roy was over a year removed from being drafted by the Kings. However, for a player drafted in the 7th-round and 194th overall, Roy’s road to the NHL was looked at to be anything but smooth. Roy likely knew this but he didn’t seem to care about the odds. Instead, the blueliner let his unflappable determination and unlimited work ethic do the talking.

I asked Shuchuk if these qualities of Roy’s were very evident during the 2016-17 campaign.

“Oh, absolutely,” beamed the 54-year-old. “He was always a hard worker. Always. He never complained about how hard the practices were and I always joked with him saying, ‘You’re doing too much out there.’”

While he may have been ready to make the jump to the pros following his junior season, Roy still needed some adjusting to his game. He addressed that with his coach and the rest, as they say, is history.

“He learned how to use his stick more, leading with his stick going blade-on-blade, playing longer, and it helped his game,” Shuchuk explained. “Instead of always trying to finish checks where he really didn’t have to get himself out of position, he was using his stick, going blade-on-blade, getting pucks away, and he’s such a good skater. He’s deceptive. In the first two strides, he gets great separation. So, once he had the puck and had more confidence, he was up the ice before you knew it.”

The former King continued.

“But, I think the biggest thing was — and we actually talked about this — reading the play. If he wanted to play at the next level, it’s not much how good you are offensively, you’ve got to be your team’s defenseman. The first part of your breakdown is defense. You’ve got to be good defensively and he took pride in that. We had a good conversation about that and he became a really good, steady– I don’t want to say a stay-at-home defenseman because he was throwing the rush a lot, but very responsible and one of those guys you can throw out in any situation. Last minute of a game, whether down a goal or up a goal, he could be that guy. So, at that time in my view, he was one of the best defensemen in the league and was still an offensive guy, and it’s showing now [with the Kings].”

Preparing for Los Angeles

While his jump to the pros may not have been to Los Angeles directly, Matt Roy knew that there was a good chance that he would start his professional career in southern California in nearby Ontario — and he did. Nevertheless, the young blueliner was looking forward to life in a whole new climate, something his assistant coach knew a thing or two about.

“I knew when he signed [his ELC with the Kings], he contacted me — and we actually talked a bunch of times at Tech — and I said the biggest thing that you’ll learn being in California compared to being at Tech was the weather,” Shuchuk said with a chuckle. “It’s beautiful out there all the time, so you have to make the adjustment for it.”

Using the example of one of his former Kings teammates from the mid-90s, Shuchuk offered a reminder for the Detroit native that while living in southern California is ideal as far as weather and lifestyle go, those factors can be just as much liabilities as they are assets.

“I told him the story of Alex Zhitnik going down to Manhattan Beach,” began Shuchuk. “We’re all playing volleyball and he fell asleep on the beach and got sunburnt so bad that he couldn’t come to practice the next day, and [Kings head coach] Barry Melrose was all pissed off at us because of that. So, I just said [to Roy], you’ve got to be careful in L.A. with the sun.”

Shuchuk, however, followed up his cautionary tale with something for his defenseman to embrace.

“The cool thing about being in California, I said, was that you’re not like the football players or the basketball players. You can kind of blend in there and be part of a community,” the former center said. “They’re going to know who you are eventually but that’s kind of a nice anomaly about being in California as opposed to Detroit or Minnesota where you walk around and they’d immediately recognize you. In L.A., especially the Manhattan Beach-El Segundo area, they know who you are but they kind of second-guess you, like, ‘Oh, is that really a Kings player?’

“Since [Roy] wasn’t married at the time and being single, I said that he’d be able to go out to a different restaurant each night and enjoy yourself [in L.A.]. It’s an unbelievable place to live and play.”

A Winning Attitude and a Solid Leader

He may not have been the most gregarious or even the most vocal player at Michigan Tech. When the going got tough, though, Matt Roy let his voice, and his feelings, be heard and seen.

“He was very, very competitive,” Shuchuk reflected. “If things weren’t going well, you can just look down the bench and see that he had this look in his eyes. Like, if guys weren’t playing well, he just had this stern look that was almost like you pissed him off.

“He was one of these guys who didn’t say much, but when he did say something, it was perfect timing. So, from a coach’s standpoint, we always wanted Matt to speak more and get more involved in that, but just wasn’t his M.O. But, when he did speak, it always carried a lot of weight in the locker room. Like, if it was between periods, he spoke up if we were playing lousy or playing soft, he did it with a lot of passion and the guys really woke up.”

While he was known as a quiet guy, Roy didn’t let that deter him from helping his team win.

“He wasn’t afraid to call guys out,” added Shuchuk. “When he called guys out, it was never in a derogatory way. It was always in a positive way, like, ‘You’re not playing like you can,’ or ‘Wake up, get ‘er going.’ But, every time he spoke, it always hit home. I remember one time, we were playing Bowling Green in the WCHA Final, and we weren’t playing great hockey. So, he spoke up — [fellow Michigan Tech defenseman] Shane Hanna was the same way: two leader defensemen — they spoke up and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be better or we’re going to be losing at home.’ The next thing you know, we won in overtime. But, it’s one of those things where when he spoke, it carried a lot of weight.”

Thanks, in large part, to Roy’s aforementioned contributions, Michigan Tech won the WCHA Championship in 2017. Yet, while the win marked the 10th for the school, it was the first for Shuchuk and head coach Mel Pearson.

While the Kings development staff deserve a significant amount of credit for making Matt Roy NHL-ready, the contributions of Gary Shuchuk and his staff cannot go unnoticed. And let us not forget what the 26-year-old himself is made of.

His two goals and seven assists may not impress some but Matt Roy’s game this season has gone far deeper than his offensive contributions.

In 30 games this season, Roy has collected 43 blocked shots and 41 hits, adding to his totals of 100 and 132, respectively, in 74 games last season. These are just a few of the reasons why the Kings rewarded their blueliner with a three-year contract extension last month.

Despite being sidelined recently, Matt Roy has all the makings of becoming one of the most reliable — nay, best — defensemen in all of the National Hockey League. Heck, if nothing else, his determination and work ethic will get him there.

Just ask Gary Shuchuk.