Developing Story: Matthew Zay
In Developing Story, a regular feature on collegehockeyinc.com, we highlight current college hockey players who have developed their skills during their careers – either on the ice or off – and in turn made a bigger impact on their team’s success.
Mercyhurst’s 11-member sophomore class has collectively made impressive strides in two years on campus, enough to lead the Lakers into Friday night’s Atlantic Hockey semifinal against Connecticut.
No one in the group has improved more, certainly statistically, than center Matthew Zay. The Glendale, N.Y., native has made the jump from ranking 12th on his team in scoring a year ago to winning the Atlantic Hockey scoring championship with 34 points in 27 conference games.
“I feel like I have more poise with the puck, and I’m a little more confident out there,” he said. “I’ve also been fortunate to be put in positions to succeed.”
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Zay has earned those opportunities thanks to hard work on and off the ice.
“He’s just gotten better and better,” head coach Rick Gotkin said. “He works hard, he competes every day. He pushes himself, and he’s tough physically and tough mentally.”
Practices with a purpose
Zay, in turn, credits Gotkin for structuring practices that emphasize fighting for position, battling for loose pucks, and shooting to score. Every drill has a purpose, and Zay has used those opportunities to maximum effect.
After practice, he regularly stays on the ice to work on passing and shooting with his classmate and roommate, Tyler Shiplo. That chemistry is especially evident on the power play, where Shiplo – a defenseman – has more than half of his points.
“You spend most of your time in practice, and that’s where you improve,” Zay said. “We have four practices a week and you’ve got to keep pushing yourself to get better.”
The time Zay has put in has given him more time with the puck in games. Even in a low-scoring affair like Sunday’s 1-0 win at Holy Cross to advance to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, the Mercyhurst offense seems to flow through him, with Zay using his poise and creativity to distribute the puck to his wings, fellow sophomores Ryan Misiak and Chris Bodo (Zay and Bodo played together with the Pembroke Lumber Kings prior to college as well).
Power forward's frame
In addition to that creativity, Zay has a solid frame at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. He likes to add a physical component to his game and Gotkin says he is at his best when playing like a power forward.
That’s a combination of skill and strength that will pay off for Zay in the future.
“Lots of guys want to be teachers, or doctors, or truck drivers, and those are all fine professions,” Gotkin said. “Matthew Zay is a hockey player, and he wants to be a hockey player. He’s going to have that chance.”