By Sheldon Lee
Mathieu Caron’s destiny could very well have been laid out before him long before his ability to even form memories had developed. The Chilliwack Chiefs goaltender says he got started between the pipes around the age of six months old.
“As the story goes, I was at the babysitter’s, who had some younger kids as well,” said Caron. “They would place me in front the mini-stick hockey net and just start shooting at me.”
Caron would wind up putting skates on for the first time between the ages of three and four and instantly found his calling.
“I loved it,” he said. “It was just something that came naturally to me, so I started playing for fun.”
Enter Caron’s dad Rene, who would go on to become the coach of Mathieu’s novice hockey team.
“There were times when we couldn’t find a player to play net, so my dad would just throw me in there because I didn’t mind,” said Mathieu. “Nobody forced me, that’s for sure. I just found myself most comfortable in net.”
Standing in front of a rock-hard rubber disc doesn’t exactly appeal to the masses, no matter what age you are. Then again, that’s exactly what makes goaltenders special.
As time went on, Caron continued to play through the Abbotsford minor hockey ranks. The thought of joining his father, a teacher at Yale Academy, was always an intriguing one, but it wasn’t until grade nine that it would become a reality.
Caron’s first season with Yale proved to be a valuable one. During his first year with the U15 team, he wound up getting called up to the U18 team because of injuries. He would get five regular-season games under his belt with the older club that year, all of them wins.
Yale Academy has produced multiple established and soon-to-be established NHLers. Diehard Vancouver Canucks fans will know that Jake Virtanen laced up the skates for Yale Secondary back in the day.
Caron mentioned he was lucky enough to rub shoulder with a other few top-calibre players himself.
“My U18 year, I got the chance to play with Bowen Byram, Dylan Cozens and a couple others making their NHL debuts [this year],” he said. “It was a fun experience for us to be able to fly around and bond as a team, play in different tournaments and get to see the continent a little bit.”
While Caron was in his final year at Yale, the Chilliwack Chiefs came knocking and named him an affiliate player. By doing so, Caron had the ability to play for both his registered club and the Chiefs. Looking back, the timing worked out quite well for him.
“I got a front-row seat to a memorable playoff run that year,” he said. “In the four years since, I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see in junior hockey.”
Everything, including an RBC Cup National Championship in 2018.
The Chiefs entered that tournament as the host city and, after losing their first game to their BCHL counterparts the Wenatchee Wild, swept the remaining five contests, including a 4-2 final game victory over the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
It was a grind of a season and Caron feels he significantly benefitted from it.
“From the get-go, Chilliwack’s been a winning organization,” he said. “I think everyone knows that. I saw during that run what it really takes to be a championship team and how much work it really involves. Some teams don’t really know the feeling. That’s what I take away the most. I know what it takes to win.”
Chiefs head coach Brian Maloney tends to agree. Maloney took over as head coach right before that RBC Cup run and has had Caron as his goalie every since.
“He’s a kid that always listened well, studied the game really well and never hesitated to ask questions,” said Maloney. “He’s just a phenomenal teammate. Usually, when you do all those sorts of things, your game begins to develop, and because of that, he’s one of the best goalies in the league.”
In February of 2020 the Chiefs announced Caron had committed to Brown University – a school with rich academic tradition and one of the oldest hockey programs in the NCAA. So, what does it mean to him to dawn the jersey of such a coveted institution?
“The big goal for me out of junior hockey was to get that scholarship in the States and continue playing hockey,” said Caron. “I’m not sure it’s fully sunk in yet that I’ll be going there next year, just because it’s been so long wearing a Chiefs uniform. I really couldn’t be more excited to get down there and getting my chance to play.”
Brown is an Ivy League school and is known for its academic prowess. That is no coincidence as Caron and his family have always put an emphasis on education.
“My parents always pushed me to do well in school, so that was a big focus of mine growing up,” he said. “When I get to Brown, I’ve set myself on getting into the medical side of things. The academics at that school are very well known and I look forward to that challenge and that aspect of things.”
In the meantime Caron is in his final year with the Chiefs, a team with some big business to take care of. Chilliwack is currently sitting atop their respective BCHL pod this season and are looking to finish atop the standings. It’s not easy to sum up four fun-filled years spent on BCHL ice in a couple sentences, but Caron did his best.
“Practically being a hometown kid and being part of such a wonderful organization has been almost surreal,” said Caron. “ When you combine that with the fans and the community, I know that Chilliwack will always hold a special place in my heart. That’s how much I love being here.”