Imposing junior defenseman and Edmonton Oilers prospect Matt Greene enjoyed an excellent season with the University of North Dakota, helping to lead the Fighting Sioux to their NCAA-record 12th National Championship appearance.
He had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) playing in 43 North Dakota games this season, and led both the Fighting Sioux in penalty minutes with 126.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Greene after North Dakota’s practice on Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
HF: How does it feel to be at the Frozen Four?
MG: It feels really good. It’s feels really good that we’re still playing right now. The last two years our season ended early and we had some down time so it feels great to be busy and still playing.
HF: The team went through a lot of adversity particularly in the second half of the season. Does being here make it that much better knowing what you all had to go through to get here?
MG: Yeah, it feels great. There were a lot of people that counted us out. A lot of our own fans said that the season was over and might as well pack it in. To be here right now and have the success that we’ve had as the season went on is pretty special. We feel pretty good about ourselves. The main thing was that this was a goal for us all year and the fact that we’re here shouldn’t surprise anybody on our team. We’re not content just playing here. We want to win it.
HF: You bring a quiet leadership to the team. Do you feel that the players are responding to that both on and off the ice?
MG: I think so. At the beginning of the year it was a little different to take the captaincy role because I didn’t have that my first two years. So it’s different but I think that when you’re a captain on your team, you’re a captain for a reason. You just keep doing the things that you’re strong at. If you’re playing your game the way you’re supposed to then the team will feed off you and feed off of the way you play. It doesn’t matter if you’re a goal scorer or a defenseman. That’s the way it’s been all year and we try to play to our strengths. That’s a big positive for our team. So I’m happy with it.
HF: How much of an adjustment for you has it been to have the responsibility of wearing the “C” on your jersey?
MG: It was a big time adjustment. You don’t know if you’re doing things right or wrong. You take a look at yourself in the mirror a little bit more after losses. It’s tough at the beginning, but once you get a feel for it, it’s great. A lot of people say that it’s a burden but I don’t look at it like that. I believe it’s an unbelievable opportunity to be a very big part of something and to be proud of yourself at the end of the day. That’s what a good leader does. If you’re a leader and you can look at yourself and say ‘hey I’m proud of the way I played and proud of the way I got these other guys ready for the game,’ that’s an honor to you.
HF: With the physical type of game that you play and the crackdown on the obstructions that the NCAA has instituted, do you feel that that has hindered you and your play this season?
MG: Yeah, it definitely has. This year was tough with all of the rule changes and the crackdown on the obstructions and hits to the head and everything like that. It’s great that they’re calling the game the way it’s supposed to be called, but it was definitely a tough adjustment. You get used to playing the same way for two years and all of a sudden they switch it on you. You almost have to change your game completely around and change a lot of parts to your game to be successful. It was an adjustment and I wasn’t the only guy in the league who had to make that adjustment. It wasn’t like they were pointing fingers at just me, but I was definitely a guy that was affected by it. It’s tough but at the same time I think it’s for the best. It teaches you how to play the game better and teaches you how to be a skilled player and utilize your skills. You’re not just a slug on the ice holding everybody (laughs). The crackdown this year encourages players to use their skills more and in effect, open up the game.
HF: What part of the new rule changes do you feel was the hardest to adjust to for you personally?
MG: For me personally, I think just the obstruction and the defensive zone coverage. That was really tough. In the past where you can hit and pin a player, you’re not allowed to pin at all this year. That, I think was the biggest cause of problems for me and the defensive corps here because at a young age you’re taught to hit, pin and contain and now all of a sudden, you’re 21 years old, you’ve been playing hockey for however long and now they’re telling you that you can’t hit and pin anymore. So what do you do? If you go in there, you have to hit and release. By the time you release, the forward that you just hit is with the puck, behind you and heading towards the net. At the beginning of the year, a lot of our guys were caught out of position right away or taking some holding penalties along the boards. That was the really tough part about it for me personally to adjust to it.
HF: Having to have had to make the adjustments, has that also helped improve your overall game?
MG: I definitely think so. It makes you a smarter player. You can pick and choose your chances. It forces you to play better and play with more skill, especially in situations like four-on-fours. You also get more power play time and it opens up a different aspect of your game. It’s either you have to improve or you’re not going to survive and that’s it. With all the talks about it, it sounds like this trend is going to carry on into the NHL as well. If you want to play hockey at a high level, you’ll need to use your skill set more and not rely on the obstruction totally.
HF: You’re an Edmonton Oilers prospect that is very highly regarded by the team. Considering how high the Oilers are on you, do you sense that there might be a chance that they may ask you to leave North Dakota early?
MG: I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. If that happens, then it’s a decision that I have to make at that time. I’m not worried about it all. That’s a good situation to be in. It’s a lot better to be wanted than be looking for a job somewhere. If that’s what happens, then that’s great but it’ll be a decision that I’ll have to make when it comes. Right now, I’m not too worried. It’s the farthest thing from my mind.
HF: What were the Oilers prospects camps like for you?
MG: I didn’t attend the one this past summer because it was actually during the NCAA school year. Two years ago I went and was great. I actually had a sprained ankle due to summer softball (laughs). The injury happened like a week before so I didn’t skate at the camp until the last day. Being around the town, the organization and the other prospects was great. It didn’t feel like you were competing for a job. Everyone within the Oilers organization was really nice and very respectful, so I had a really good time.
HF: Have you spoken to the Oilers at any time this season?
MG: Not really. They monitor everything that I do and they monitor every one of their prospects but they’re not a team that’s always asking you questions or calling you after every game. I think they’re pretty smart about that. Every year since they drafted me, I always talk to them after the season is over. I talk about how the season went, how things are going and what do I need to do to improve for the next year.
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