A Ukrainian and a desert child: the delirious rise of Auston Matthews


A Ukrainian mathematician who fled the USSR to revolutionize hockey in Mexico. A child like the others who skates in the desert. A meeting that leads to the rise of the next superstar under the most unsuspected circumstances. This is the story of Auston Matthews, recognized here as the martyr of the Montreal Canadiens.

Once again, Saturday night, Auston Matthews tortured Carey Price and the Habs. He’s got into the nasty habit of doing it since the start of his career.

The fabulous, dashing maverick is pushing the limits this season. And how! There is talk of the possibility of a 50-goal season in a shortened campaign … The days go by, and Alex Ovechkin, as tireless as he is, seems to have passed the torch to him.

If Matthews hurts Quebecers infatuated with their Sainte-Flanelle, the story of his rise is rather unknown in La Belle Province. TVASports.ca took an interest in it.

Ironically, Matthews arguably wouldn’t be Matthews if he hadn’t grown up in the Arizona desert. And Matthews probably wouldn’t be Matthews if it hadn’t been for a fascinating Ukrainian character to impart his bizarre hockey science to him.

This character is Boris Dorozhenko. A guy anything but … like the others. Dorozhenko stumbled upon Matthews when he was seven, and it was a stroke of fate.

The native of Kiev left his native Ukraine to join Mexico at the time of the breakup of the Soviet regime. There, he built the national hockey program from A to Z.

“During one of our international trips, we faced a team from Arizona and we did very well,” explains Dorozhenko to the author of these lines. I had a request to conduct a session in Arizona. During one of my short camps, I met Matthews when he was six or seven years old. ”

Matthews’ parents love Dorozhenko’s approach so much that they ask him to come back next summer. The camp makes noise, so that the sons of Claude Lemieux and Jeremy Roenick also join it. The funny hockey man training techniques arouse great fascination, but sometimes a certain disbelief.

(Video credit: Boris Dorozhenko)

The Matthews family ended up begging Dorozhenko to move to Arizona to devote himself fully to the development of the young boy.

“It was difficult for me to imagine, I was part of a big organization in Mexico. We built something big, we started with 30 boys playing hockey to finally have more than 1000.  »

After a visit to Arizona, Dorozhenko receives an ultimatum from Brian Matthews, Auston’s father: one month to decide whether to accept the proposal.

“He calls me back two weeks later and asks me where I am. I am in Mexico! “Why aren’t you here?” He asks me. « Well, you gave me a month! » He persists: « Why don’t you come, the boys here really need you! »  »

Dorozhenko then makes a decision that will forever transform his life and that of his protégé. He leaves a most enviable position at the top of the Mexican hockey pyramid. All that to go develop a kid. Imagine.

He moved in with Matthews’ grandparents and took their grandson to all the arenas, sometimes at five in the morning to train.

Photo credit: Boris Dorozhenko

“The NHL was our goal together [Matthews et moi]. It was the one and only reason for my move. It wasn’t for fun. He was determined to become a professional player. It was inside of him. ”

Yet, at first glance, Matthews was just another young hockey player.

“It’s really hard to pinpoint particular physical qualities in a seven-year-old boy,” admits Dorozhenko. At this age, everyone is the same. But he had this great desire to be better. He was a very intelligent boy who watched a lot of videos and liked to dissect the game. ”

What especially distinguished young Matthews from the rest was, of course, his desire to surpass himself, but also his hand-eye coordination.

“It has always been a strength of his, because he played baseball at a young age,” says Dorozhenko. He was not fat, he was a very normal youngster with great desire and good coordination.  »

Photo credit: Boris Dorozhenko


Different paths lead to Rome. A boy straight out of Arizona is not necessarily popular with the national authorities of the American hockey program. There is work to be done before changing perceptions …

During a camp organized in Utah by USA Hockey, Matthews saw one of his first big disappointments. He is entrenched. We prefer players of the AAA level from Colorado. His heart is in a thousand pieces.

“If memory serves, he was peewee at the time. He was determined to show people how good he was. I wasn’t there, but his grandfather followed him. Auston gave me a call. He felt the victim of a huge injustice: « Uncle Boris, what happened? I worked so hard. I was so good and they take the guys from Colorado. »

“I remember it very well. I said to him, « Look, keep working hard and one day these same people will ask for your autograph. »  »

A life lesson. And a prediction that has aged well.

Building Auston Matthews

Take a good look at Auston Matthews as he grabs the record. His way of handling the puck. His footwork. His posture. Everything is in perfect coordination. The weight is perfectly distributed. No movement is superfluous. It’s the perfect chemistry.

If mad scientists had attempted to create a hockey player, it was roughly a replica of Auston Matthews that would come out of their lab.

This is the result of the Dorozhenko method. At the time, his exercises were completely outside the traditional mold, but he finds that they are being reproduced more and more around the world.

Dorozhenko refuses to describe himself as a skating specialist. Nevertheless, according to his philosophy, everything starts with the skating. Balance, weight transfer from one leg to the other, weight distribution, stability of the abdominal muscles: these are the foundations of a hockey player’s game.

Do not wonder where the prodigious fluidity of number 34 comes from.

« From my point of view, I still see the basics of my teaching in his game: weight distribution, balance, transfer from one leg to another, » lists Dorozhenko. I see him on the ice with his mustache, but for me, he’s still the boy I saw playing!

“When I saw him score four goals in his first NHL game, I saw the same little boy I was teaching who was scoring such similar goals. He marked them with less intensity, but it was the same boy. « 

When Matthews joined the American development program, Dorozhenko stepped back. Naturally, he had to let new coaches take care of his protégé, whom he still considers his son to this day. These then added additional layers to the foundations of Matthews’ game.

“He’s just a lot more efficient today in all the little things, all the movements. He pays attention to every detail. I taught him this thoroughness at a young age. I tried to instill in him this Cartesian sense of analysis, ”emphasizes Dorozhenko, who has a university degree in mathematics.

Today, Dorozhenko is convinced that he has a kind of sixth sense to spot special players. The time spent with young Matthews marked him forever.

“Now when I watch hockey players at a very young age, I can predict a lot of things. It is difficult to explain. I can really recognize them. This is in large part thanks to Auston. He gave me that experience and he taught me to spot these players.  »

Photo credit: Boris Dorozhenko

A place in the Temple?

Although he has not yet won collectively with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matthews takes his game to the next level every year.

Like Sidney Crosby, he returns every season with a new twist added to his arsenal. This is what sets elite players apart from others.

“He’s going to get better every year. He will always surprise us with something new. He has a very creative mind. Very creative. Absolutely creative, insists Dorozhenko. It’s art! »

The thousand dollar question is: can he grab the crown from Connor McDavid, considered by many to be the best player on the tour?

“It’s hard to say. Eventually, I certainly see Auston among the legends. He will be part of the Hall of Fame, I have no doubt about it, ”predicts the Ukrainian.

Whatever happens, and despite Matthews’ growing popularity, the teacher and his student will continue to keep in touch. The ties between Dorozhenko and the Matthews family are just too close.

“He is playing the role of mentor to my 14 year old child today. He has the incredible chance to skate with Matthews. Auston is part of my family. I still affectionately call him « grandpa » from time to time.  »

A Ukrainian who fled to Mexico. A kid from Arizona. If there is one story that promotes the globalization of hockey, this is it.

Photo credit: Boris Dorozhenko


Laisser un commentaire