Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
By Kai Farenholtz
Over the BCHL’s 60-year history, the league has seen its fair share of next-level talent run through its dressing rooms. As the game gets faster, stronger and more skilled with every passing season, we see younger and younger players making impacts that you come to expect from a 20-year-old grizzled veteran. Seasons that come to mind in recent memory are Alex Newhook’s clinic in his draft minus-one season where he took control of the Victoria Grizzlies’ offence as the youngest player on the roster or Kent Johnson’s 20-goal, 46-point campaign in his 16-year-old year.
These seasons are beyond impressive from a standstill, but when compared to the outrageous performance presented last year by Grizzlies rookie Matthew Wood, you may question the legitimacy of his birth certificate, because the production put on display is unlike anything you would expect from a player who spent most of the season as a 16-year-old.
Wood’s journey throughout the 2021-22 season has redefined the gold standard of what is to be expected from a rookie forward, scoring 85 points and 45 goals in a mere 46 games to lead the BCHL in both categories.
One massive factor to Wood’s offensive success was the glistening start to his season. In Victoria’s opener against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Wood wasted no time putting his team on the board with a slick wrist shot off of a pretty entry into the offensive zone. Wood’s early dominance was just getting started. He posted a grand total of 13 points through Victoria’s first five contests.
He noted that playing during the pod season definitely contributed to his early success in terms of comfort and confidence within the league.
“It definitely helped a lot,” he said. “Just to get ready for the start of the year and come in without being nervous or wondering what the league was like. Those games really got me prepared for the next step to just come in and do my thing and not be afraid of anything.”
The pod season, along with a determined attitude and strong work ethic throughout the offseason, allowed Wood to elevate his game to the level we witnessed throughout the entirety of the 2021-22 regular season. The one trait put on full display every night was Wood’s immaculate shooting and goal-scoring tangibles. It’s a shot most scouts and average fans would label NHL-ready or pro-caliber. With the story and training regimen behind his shot, you can easily see how he eclipsed the 40-goal mark.
“I started really focusing on my shot when Elias Pettersen was a rookie,” said Wood. “I liked to watch him a lot and, when I lived with [consensus 2023 first-overall pick] Connor Bedard in ninth grade, we shot a lot of pucks in the backyard. My dad has helped a lot with my shot with weighted pucks, weighted sticks, lots of different drills and stuff. It all comes together.”
Wood received lots of media praise online and throughout forums for his wicked offensive production, but he was not alone in his efforts. The trio of Wood, Ellis Rickwood and Connor Eddy tore apart the league one by one with their well-assembled and balanced lineup. Eddy injected speed and edge into the line, while Rickwood anchored the group with a reliable two-way game and cerebral offensive awareness. Each player brought the best of each world to craft one of, if not, the most potent line in the BCHL and Wood was able to feed off of that.
“Eddy’s a super hard worker,” he said. “He took a big step. He’s unbelievably fast and he has a great shot. Obviously, Ricks is a great shooter. I learned from him there. He grew his game to be an all-around player. He knows what he has to do to help the team win and he was a great captain. I was fortunate to be able to learn from him.”
As the season progressed, Wood never seemed to hit a cold spell. This allowed him to surpass the likes of BCHL legends Kent Johnson, Alex Newhook and Tyson Jost’s production in their rookie campaigns. Wood exited the season as the league’s top scorer, an MVP finalist, a First-Team All-Star and Rookie of the Year. He was also the first player to eclipse the 40-goal plateau in his 16-year-old season since Powell River Kings forward Robb Gordon accomplished the feat in 1993.
All of this success caught the attention of Hockey Canada, giving Wood the opportunity to represent his nation at the Capital City Challenge for Team Red, where he finished tied for the team lead in scoring with seven points. After the BCHL season came to a close for Victoria, Wood was offered the chance to play for Canada at the IIHF U18 World Championship in Landshut and Kaufbeuren, Germany.
In addition to it being Wood’s first time representing his nation abroad, it was also his first time travelling to Europe. Although the team was not able to secure any hardware, Wood garnered a myriad of memories and experiences that he’s taking back to Canada.
“It was really cool to just wear the jersey,” he said. “You feel a lot of pride and joy when you put on that jersey and represent your country.”
In the four games Wood participated in, he found the score sheet twice, including the first goal of the tournament for Canada against the United States. Another factor to take in for Wood was the fact that a majority of the competition at this tournament is a year older than him, some with prior experience at the event.
“The game is just at a different level,” said Wood. “It’s a lot faster. It’s a lot harder-checking and you’re given a lot less time. You have to make your decisions quickly, because everyone’s super smart. You have to be prepared before you get the puck and you have to know what you’re going to do with it before you even get it.”
All of this experience in the BCHL and in international play is gearing him up for the next stage in his hockey career, the NCAA. Wood is committed to the University of Connecticut where he is bound to play for the Huskies after his time in the BCHL. Wood is dialed in and excited to get things going at the next stage, especially given the fact that more and more high NHL selections are taking the college route and that getting to play against these prospects will only propel his growth in the sport even further.
“College hockey just has so many high draft picks and great players and a lot of those players move on to the NHL,” he said. “Playing with and against the guys that you’re going to see further down the road, it’s going to be pretty cool.”
It’s still crazy to believe that after the season Wood posted there is still another year until we will hear his name called at the NHL Draft. The 2023 draft class is widely regarded as one of the deepest classes in recent history. Wood acknowledges the rest of his class is immensely talented, but he believes his goal-scoring prowess is what separates him from the rest of the pack.
“I think I add a lot of true scoring and an ability to score around the net and further out,” he said. “I think my shot and even my ability to make a play out of nothing is what separates me.”
Wood may be in offseason mode, but the work away from the ice is ongoing. He is still in the gym working on his strength and conditioning. There is also a lot of focus on becoming an even better skater. Unsurprisingly, he is still clocking in hours to make his shot even more lethal for his draft-eligible season.
With all the experience attained over the last year-and-half, Wood is prepared to take yet another step forward in his already impressive career and perhaps once again blow away everyone’s expectations. If there’s one thing everyone should take away from Wood’s rookie season, it’s to expect the unexpected.