Ask yourself to name a few NHL defensemen
whose reputations alone can strike fear into most forwards in the NHL. How many names immediately jump into your
Scott Stevens. Rob Blake. Chris Pronger. Ed
Jovanovski. Jason Smith. Adam Foote.
Those are players who know the difference between
hitting to hurt and hitting to injure. They are monsters patrolling the
blueline who will stop at nothing to prevent their opponents from getting
scoring chances. Like the gladiators of old Rome, these leaders are willing to
accept physical punishment in order to get their jobs done. It’s players like
this that every team dreams of finding and hopes they get the opportunity to
select at the NHL entry draft.
The Edmonton Oilers found and selected one such
player and in 2002. Matthew Greene was a second round choice by the Oilers (44th
overall), their fourth in a year where they had accumulated plenty of early
Currently playing for the highly ranked University of
North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Greene has already created that reputation amongst
his peers and he has his opponent’s attention when he is on the ice. Circling
like a great white shark in search of prey, Greene lies in wait of delivering
the crippling blow, and to hear him tell it, you’d have to admit that he sounds
like he relishes in it.
Matt Greene spoke with HF from Ralph Engelstad Arena, the home of the Fighting
Sioux as the team prepared for an upcoming weekend series against Yale
did you choose to go the college route and did you ever consider one of the
Major Junior leagues?
Basically, in the States the only people who talk to you about Major
Junior are college people and so they make it sound as if it would be the worst
decision of your life. The people that
educate you on it are the people who want you to come to their college. By the time that I realized (Juniors) wasn’t
a bad choice, I felt like I was already too old because I was out of high
school so I thought I’d prefer the college route. Also my parents are both teachers so they wanted me to go to
college a little bit too.
are you studying at the University of North Dakota?
Right now I’m “undecided” so it’s (laughs) pretty much a wash. I’m just
playing hockey here.
was going to ask if your academics come first for you right now with the hockey
a close second but it sounds more like you’re there mainly for the
hockey experience. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I think North Dakota’s a place where you come to play hockey. It’s
basically just a hockey factory where you just pretty much play but you go to
school too. You’ve got to take care of your schoolwork but yeah, everybody’s
here to play hockey.
team just finished a big weekend against Boston College who was the No. 1
ranked team going into that series. You
split the two games but beating them knocked them from the top spot, was that a
motivation for your squad?
Definitely. When the No. 1 team comes into your building you want to
win. It was just a matter of playing
well and we did it the first night but the second night I don’t think we played
to our potential. It was definitely a
good feeling to knock off the number one team in the nation.
you consider anything less than an appearance at the Frozen Four to be a
failure this year?
MG: I think we have a great team this year and if
everything comes together and we’re clicking and everybody’s on the same page
then we should make it far.
have been described as a very defensive defenseman but was it always that way
or was there a time when you played more offensively?
I didn’t start playing defense until I was a sophomore in high school. I
switched back because they didn’t have anybody left to play D on my midget team
and I was a little smaller and was struggling as a forward so I moved back.
Eventually I grew and that was about it. I try to focus defensively and I’ve
(laughs) kind of lost a bit of my offense but it’s coming around. I think it’s
just a comfort thing. Last year I didn’t have any goals and just four assists
because I was just really getting used to the pace of the game but hopefully
this year I can improve on that a little bit.
But I’m never going to be an offensive defenseman.
still getting over you saying how you were a small guy!
(laughs) I was pretty small in high school up until the end of my
sophomore year. I went into my freshman year at about 5’8” and then ended up
going into my junior year at pretty much 6’0”.
Right now I’m 6’3” and 225 lbs.
sure the Oilers are your favorite NHL team now but as a Michigan native, were
the Red Wings your team growing up?
The Red Wings were always my favorite growing up, even when they were
bad when I was a lot younger.
closely do you follow the Oilers during the year?
Pretty close. I try to catch as
many games as I can on TV. It’s pretty
interesting to watch those guys play after being at the rookie camp this year
and now being a part of it is pretty exciting.
twisted your ankle the week before the June prospect camp. Was it tough to enjoy the camp when you were
so limited in your on ice time?
Yeah, (laughs) I think my softball career is pretty much over now after
that. It was pretty frustrating because
I had worked so hard to get into shape and be ready to come there to play
did actually make an appearance near the end of that mini-camp and you looked
like you were trying to make a big impression with the little time you had.
MG: The coaches out there were saying that it
wasn’t an evaluation camp but more for orientation but any chance where they
can see you put on a performance that’s a plus for you. I lost out on a lot of my time so I just
tried to play as well as I could. I
tried to make up for it with the time I had, I guess you have to play with more
intensity when you have something to prove.
you were drafted, were you surprised about when you were taken and by who took
you or did you have a feeling that the Oilers were serious?
I was very surprised. I had a
meeting with them before at the combines and it was probably the most
relaxed meeting I was in that whole weekend.
It was really informal and we were just kind of shooting the breeze and
I was really put at ease. I remember
when I left the meeting thinking that that would be a really great place to go
just by how nice everybody was in the room and how comfortable they made
me. But I didn’t really know and I
couldn’t get a good read off of them whether they really were interested or just
kind of wasting time. It was a great
an American, and also that there are a lot more American based teams especially
the farther East that you go, how do you feel about being drafted by a Canadian
team, particularly one this far Northwest?
Do you have any concerns at all in that regard?
No concerns at all! Edmonton’s
an unbelievable city! I’ve been
there twice now and I can’t get enough of it. The history of the program,
that’s a franchise you can’t get enough of. It was definitely an honor and I
couldn’t have gone to a better place. That’s the kind of team you dream to get
is your practice schedule like in school and in what areas are you trying to
improve on the most?
Everything really but mostly my balance and trying to get faster. As a D-man you have to be able to skate and
have quick feet. Also just jumping up in the play a little bit more. Maybe not
being a goal factor on the offense but at least being there to contribute a
players are inevitably compared to someone in the NHL. Who have you heard yourself compared to by
others and do you think those comparisons are fair?
Coming into North Dakota I was compared a lot to Mike Commodore
(CGY). I know with the Oilers, I like
Jason Smith a lot and the way he plays so if I could be compared to him at all
that would be an honor right there.
That’s who I try to pattern my game after by playing tough and being a
scout Chris McCarthy recently described you for HF like this: “He reminds me a
little bit of Mark Tinordi in the way that, if you go down his side, you never
know what you’re going to get. He could
absolutely take your head off, put you in the boards to rub you out or he could
just go psycho on you and really hurt you.
In front, you don’t battle with him because he’s so big and so strong
and he has a tremendous mean streak.” Does that accurately describe you in your
I hope so. If you’re playing against somebody you’re obviously not out there
to make friends so you’ve got to go as hard as you can and if you get the
chance to lay somebody out you’ve got to do it. If you can take him out of the
game doing it, why not?
intimidation factor heavily into your style of play?
Definitely. Anything you can do to get an edge. If you can get a guy to
double think what he’s going to do against you then that’s an extra chance for
him to not be so effective against your team. Especially with a lot of the
skill guys, I mean if they’re going to be looking over their shoulder thinking
about what you’re doing instead of what they’re doing then you’ve got a little
bit of an edge on them.
me about the experience of representing your country at the World Junior
Championships in Halifax.
It was amazing and again it just proved how good Canada was as a host
country. That tournament was top notch and everything was unbelievable. Even
though we lost, it was probably the greatest experience with hockey in my life
you realize your physical dominance against the European teams and feel
confident that you could compete at that level?
Yeah, it was a time for me to prove my spot because I wasn’t picked
right away or even invited to their tryout camp. Going into it I viewed it as
an opportunity for me to make the most of.
One of our defensemen got hurt (Tim Gleason) so I got a great chance to
play and played well. I just tried to play my game by playing physical and I
think I held my own and I had a great time doing it to. It was unbelievable.
long until you want to turn pro, or do you know yet?
I’m not sure yet. It all depends on what the organization is thinking
and how I’m developing in college. I’m
not in a rush right now, I’m not itching to get out of school but I’m
definitely not opposed to the idea either.
I don’t want to set any timeframes for what happens but you could say
that I’m open to suggestions.
you could pick a current Oiler defender to partner with, who would best
compliment your own style? Would you
pick an offensive guy like Bergeron or Brewer or another hitter like Jason
Either of those combinations would be great but I think I’d like to play
with an offensive guy and kind of let them handle it a bit and ride their coattails
to some pluses here and there wouldn’t be bad (laughs). Let them handle the offense and let me play
defense with them.
Greene’s Fighting Sioux had just been
named the No. 2 ranked team in the nation according to polls by both the USCHO
and USA Today. The upcoming weekend
series against Yale precedes a major clash with their WCHA rival Minnesota, ,
currently ranked No. 10.