Tested in the highest-profile Junior hockey tournament in the world, Matthew Verboon has emerged on the other side a more confident, and more dangerous, offensive force for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Verboon earned a spot with Switzerland for the World Junior Championship (WJC) which was hosted by Victoria and Vancouver. He found himself a role for the animated Swiss head coach Christian Wohlwend and proved his worth to the national U20 team taking a regular shift in the highly-scrutinized event. Coming out of it, he’s produced eight points in five games for the Silverbacks and is the team’s scoring leader maintaining a point-per-game pace.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound playmaker not only acquitted himself well at the WJC, he’s proven to himself he can be the type of player that imposes his will on a hockey game.
“I think there’s two things it sort of helped me with,” said the soon-to-be 19-year-old. “The first thing one is confidence that, ‘Hey I can do that against the best Junior players in the world’ so I should be able to do it against BCHL players. Maybe try more things, play with more confidence with the puck.
It’s not lost on the Silverbacks coaching staff either. Tanner Cochrane, himself a former BCHL forward with Powell River and Chilliwack, has seen the evidence since getting Verboon back into the lineup post WJC.
“Since he’s been back you can see his confidence even more. He’s producing at a higher rate than before he left,” said Cochrane. “He’s great on the power play, makes players around him better. Obviously when you go to a higher level, you’re going to notice a difference in the pace of play. Coming back, he’s able to process the game a little quicker.”
In a marquee event like the WJC, Verboon recalls some specifics where the heat was turned up the most.
“Two games in particular; the Canada game, we played them twice because we played them once in a friendly game before the tournament. The first game was, like, insane. I couldn’t understand how I was playing against all these drafted guys and everything. As you get settled down I was like ‘I can play with these guys’ but playing Canada in the Rogers Arena during the tournament in front of all those fans that was quite something and me being Canadian it was quite special.
“But then also playing Sweden in the quarterfinals and beating them, that was quite the upset and it was cool to see that Switzerland could compete in the tournament.”
Another aspect of playing for Switzerland that Verboon, who is committed to NCAA Colgate for next season, can file away is playing for head coach Christian Wohlwend. Captured on TV in the midst of a rant on the bench on multiple occasions, he was also a media favourite for his no-holds-barred postgame interviews. His passion translated well to the Swiss team and was part of the reason the team made it into medal contention and Verboon credits the bench boss for his style.
“Oh I love it, he’s super fiery and has a lot of emotion and he’ll tell you anything. He’s super honest with the players. Whatever you guys see in the interviews, that’s just half of it. He’s the same thing with the team, he lightens the mood when it needs to be lightened but he knows when to be serious. I really enjoyed playing for him.”
In addition to his work for Switzerland, Verboon flew the flags of the Silverbacks and the BCHL as the team and league were mentioned multiple times on live TV broadcasts.
“I think it’s great for our league, having a player play in that tournament shows that programs in our league can develop players and that’s something we’ll use in recruiting now,” said Cochrane. “For our team, it was mentioned many times in the broadcasts that he’s from the BCHL and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. We had a player go there and have success, I think it’s great for the league and for us as a franchise.”
Most of Verboon’s teammates wouldn’t have the ability to play in the BCHL because they lack citizenship in North America but Verboon’s play was proof enough to them of the calibre the league and it’s players can boast of.
“I sort of explained to them but Europeans mostly know about Major Junior, not about BCHL because they don’t have a Canadian passport so they would never be able to play in the BCHL,” said Verboon. “But I think they understood it’s a good league and they thought I was having a good season that I could come and play on the World Junior team so obviously they respected the league and thought highly of it after the tournament.”
The recent uptick in his production shows the growth in Verboon’s game. With 14 games to go and the Silverbacks just a few points from locking up a postseason berth, his Interior Division rivals have officially been put on notice.