Matt Auffrey was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the sixth round in 2004, out of the USNTDP. In his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, Auffrey broke his wrist and had a hard time regaining ice time once he returned. The next fall, after being scratched the first game, and playing sparingly in the second, the 6’2, 203-pound winger decided to leave college hockey for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
Auffrey had a successful stint in the OHL, though the overager rules meant that he changed teams twice in 2006-07. After his first OHL year in 2005-06, Auffrey played two games for the Portland Pirates when his junior season was over, and stayed for two months practicing with the team.
Thanks to the closing of the "Van Ryn loophole" in the new NHL CBA whereby a player could gain free agency by leaving for junior, Auffrey’s rights are held by the Ducks until the Aug. 15 after his college class graduates, which will be next August. Having used up his junior eligibility, the 21-year-old has turned pro with Anaheim’s ECHL affiliate, the Augusta Lynx. He has two goals and one assist in five games with the Lynx.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Auffrey after a loss to the Gwinnett Gladiators this weekend.
HF: You’re off to a good start this year, how are you feeling?
MA: Pretty good. I got a goal my first game so it’s good to get the monkey off your back real quick. But’s going well and adjusting to pro hockey is coming a little bit easier than having to do it in the AHL or NHL. It’s an easier step for me to get adjusted, try and get used to things physically and mentally.
HF: What has been the biggest change for you?
MA: The good thing is that junior is a little bit similar with the schedule. So you know how to eat and how to maintain your body. But mentally, everything’s faster. Guys are older and have played pro at various levels so you have to adjust to the different speed and age.
HF: Do you think the time you spent in Portland a few years ago helped you make the adjustment quicker?
MA: Yeah, definitely. When I was there, Dustin Penner and some other guys who were on the Stanley Cup team in Anaheim last year were there. So seeing how they live and function as a pro. It was pretty interesting and definitely helped me learn the correct way.
HF: What were you told when you were sent here as to what you should work on?
MA: Just getting used to pro hockey, getting quicker and doing everything at a higher pace.
HF: Was it the Ducks or Portland who told you that?
MA: Both, just down the line. My type of game is a power forward, just use my body and create some offense at the same time so just improve that and get to the next level.
HF: You were playing with Louie Goulet and Aaron Slattengren tonight, have you been with them all year so far?
MA: For the past two games. It’s going good. I like them. They’re both vets and they talk. It’s definitely helped me, where to go on the ice. They’re good leaders.
HF: JP Levasseur had a good night last night – 39 saves – how was the game?
MA: He’s an unbelievable player. He’s a little different because he’s a left-handed goalie, catches with the other hand. He’s just quick and for a player his age, 20 years old, to be that ready to play it’s pretty amazing. Obviously that’s why he’s signed with an NHL team. He’s a great player, unfortunately he got a little stick at the end…
HF: He ‘got a stick’?
MA: With five minutes left, yeah, they had to take him out. He got jabbed with a stick (pointing to inner thigh). A little bump in the road for us, but he played amazing. He’s a great player.
HF: Hopefully next time you guys come back he’ll play.
MA: He’ll probably be up (in Portland).
HF: You got some power play time and PK time tonight, is that typical of how (coach) Bob (Ferguson) has been using you?
MA: Tonight was the first penalty kill, but power play I got a couple here and there. It’s different at this level too because you only dress 10 forwards. There’s only three lines and you get quite a bit of ice time. So I’m pretty happy with being on the power play with Louis and Slats. They talk and move the puck well.
HF: You keep saying they talk, do you talk back?
MA: I try to help them out, try not to say too much (smiling).
HF: You’re not calling for the puck?
MA: Oh yeah, I’m definitely calling for the puck, I’m just not telling them what to do! (laughing).
HF: You jumped to junior from college, did that help your development in the way you hoped it would?
MA: Yeah, definitely. Getting adjusted to pro hockey is a little bit easier through juniors. College is similar to the age group at this level (ECHL), guys are in their 20’s, where junior guys are still younger, but the schedule and playing 72 games I think it’s better (in junior).
HF: Andy Brandt (who you faced tonight), you would have played with him at Wisconsin, right? Have you kept in touch with him?
MA: Yeah, we were both actually up in Wisconsin this summer and played shinny all summer there. Yeah we definitely get together in the summer.
HF: Why do you go back there, are you still taking classes?
MA: No, it’s just a good place to train and get some ice with the guys. He just graduated so he was still just finishing up. Guys just go back and hang out with each other. It’s a real close bond there.
HF: Have you gone back each summer then?
MA: Since I’ve left, yeah.
HF: That’s kind of unusual.
MA: Yeah. The team all comes back in the summer and works out all summer together, so it’s an advantage and maybe the reason why they’ve had some success and won a championship lately.
HF: So did you give Brandt an extra shove out there tonight?
MA: Yeah, we gave a little shove and said hi to each other, but during the game you keep it pretty…pretty…I don’t know, game-like (laughing). But we’ll talk about it later.
HF: When you decided to make the jump to the OHL, as there someone you turned to for advice on what you should do?
MA: Yeah, I talked to a guy I used to play with on the US National Team, he left there to play where I was going to – Matt Lashoff (BOS). I talked to him before to see how the team was because I knew I didn’t want to leave an education for something that wasn’t going to be worthwhile. I tried to make the right decision and get more playing time.
HF: You’re still waiting on a contract from the Ducks, how did they leave it with you – did they just say go play for a year and we’ll talk to you then?
MA: Yeah, basically. Because I have this year left to finish my rights until, you know, I have leverage for negotiations. I was an overager in juniors so I couldn’t play there anymore. They said come here and then I have an advantage just getting used to pro for a year before I maybe get signed to a contract. I’m happy with what I have to do.
HF: So they set up your contract (with Augusta)?
MA: Yeah. The Portland coach said come here, work hard and develop. If things are going well here, get the call-up.
HF: Is there anything you took from Portland camp that you keep in your mind?
MA: Learning to play smart and keeping your feet moving. Keep driving wide and use my size.
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