REGINA — While Regina Pats forward Matteo Michels spent countless hours in the gym this summer, the second-year player feels it is the work he has done on his mental game that is paying dividends so far this season.
The Colleyville, Texas product has accumulated three assists in 14 games, as of Tuesday. That certainly has the 17-year-old on pace to surpass the four assists he had in 43 contests last season as a Western Hockey League rookie. Michels’ role has increased this season with him seeing some time on the penalty kill. He believes his success has come in large part from honing his mental game.
“I have peers who have played in the WHL and played pro hockey, so I have talked to them about how their junior experience went and then I kind of went back to my junior experience and have taken away some things,” Michels said. “I also worked with a mental coach for a little bit and read a couple books just on how I could improve my mental game and how important it is because it really is so much more important than the physical side of hockey.”
A big focus for Michels has been on confidence – especially self-talk.
“The way you talk to yourself,” he said. “Say you miss a wide-open net, the way you tell yourself ‘That’s a great opportunity I got, let’s go get the next one’ instead of going to the bench and getting down on yourself.”
While focused on the mental side, Michels also ensured the physical side of the game was also taken care of in the offseason. Incorporating feedback from coaches about getting stronger, he successfully added 15 pounds. Michels’ parents owned a gym and he spent about two hours almost every day there. He also took a scientific approach to eating. Michels used an app on his phone to track his intake and supplemented with protein shakes.
“I’d pack in as much calories I could. … I just worked on putting on muscle mass and getting stronger,” he said.
While the speed of the major junior game is much faster than the prep ranks where he came from, Michels said the physicality of the WHL was definitely something he had to adapt to. As well, he had to adjust to a different role.
“Growing up, I’ve been like a top player on my team,” Michels said. “I’m sure a lot of people in the WHL can say that … then you come to the WHL and you got to almost start from the bottom and be the underdog and learn how to fight your way into the lineup and to play in the league because it is so physical.”
Michels grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The dual citizen is the son of two Canadians. His mom hails from Windsor, while his father is from Toronto.
“They were definitely the ones who pushed me towards it,” Michels said of hockey. “My dad is a die-hard Leafs fan. … My whole family has a hockey background.”
His first time on the ice featured former NHL All-Star Joe Nieuwendyk. At a local rink, he found himself on the ice with Nieuwendyk and his children.
“They actually taught me how to skate and were skating around with me – that was kind of my first experience with hockey,” Michels said.
He developed his game in the Dallas area before going to prep school in New York state in 2020-2021. During his season at Bishop Kearney, Michels posted 22 goals and 55 points in 58 games. He also learned some valuable lessons off the ice.
“I learned how to take care of myself on my own without my parents, do school on my own without my parents, and kind of almost grow up,’ Michels said. “It was like college almost, but I was 15 years old. It definitely helped me mature a lot faster.”
The Pats picked Michels in the first round, 18th overall, in the 2020 WHL U.S. Prospect Draft. He appreciates the support the Pats get.
“The fans are awesome,” he said, while also noting how well the team is treated as the lone major team in town next to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, “It is kind of like a cool experience at this age to have.”
As of Tuesday, the Pats had a 7-8-0-1 record. With their talented young core, they hope to climb the WHL standings.
“We were a young team last year,” Michels said. “All of us younger guys were able to build chemistry last year. Obviously, we’re getting more opportunity this year.”