By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Mathieu Melanson figured out at a young age that he wanted to play hockey; he just didn’t want to be a goalie.
Oh, he thought about it, and when he was a child he tried playing the same position as his father, former NHL goalie Rollie Melanson. But Mathieu wanted to skate and score goals, and the Stockton Thunder believes he made the right decision.
Mathieu Melanson has come to the Thunder and ignited what was a dormant offense. He has scored 12 goals in his first 10 games and will be looking for more when Stockton plays host to the Idaho Steelheads at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Stockton Arena.
Mathieu Melanson, 21, was a free-agent surprise for the Thunder. He was at home in Sediac, New Brunswick, after leaving his college team when he got a call from Blair Nicholson, the Thunder’s director of scouting. He has brought a gritty, aggressive style to the Thunder (27-21-10), which has four games this week against teams it trails in the National Conference standings.
He had four goals and two assists in a three-game sweep of Victoria last week and was named the ECHL’s player of the week.
“Mathieu has brought an aggression we really needed, and he’s helped us tremendously,” Thunder coach Chris Cichocki said. “He was exactly what we needed, and we were lucky to get him.”
Melanson said he used to be asked why he decided he wanted to shoot pucks at the net instead of trying to block them. His father played 11 seasons in the NHL, won three Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders in the 1980s and has been an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens since 1997.
His 19-year-old brother, Benoit, is an amateur goalie.
“I’ve been asked it quite a bit. It’s just that I wanted to skate and shoot,” Mathieu said. “I tried playing goalie as a kid, but I loved to shoot.”
Rollie Melanson said it doesn’t bother him that his son chose another position. He’s proud that Mathieu is turning himself into a rugged forward.
“Goaltending really has to be in you, and Mathieu didn’t really take a liking to it,” Rollie Melanson said. “He wants to shoot, and he doesn’t mind going to the net.
“He makes his living at the top of the crease and is willing to take some lumps to score. He could always score goals.”
Mathieu Melanson amassed 86 points (42 goals, 44 assists) in 59 games last season playing junior hockey for the Quebec Remparts and decided to attend Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. He left the team in November and finished school in December.
“It just wasn’t for me,” Melanson said of playing at Dalhousie. “I decided I wanted to try something else.”
The Thunder knew about Melanson and wanted to sign him before this season. Nicholson said he happened to run into his uncle, Norm Sawyer, and found out Mathieu wasn’t playing. Nicholson immediately made the call.
“It sounded like a good situation for me, and the timing was right,” Melanson said.
The timing also was right for the Thunder, which was looking for an offensive pick-me-up. He had a goal in his first game against Texas on Feb. 23 and has scored at least one in nine of his 10 games.
“He’s just one of those guys who instinctively knows where the puck’s going,” Thunder forward Nathan Martz said. “And once you get it to him near the net, you know you have a good chance of scoring.”
Melanson joined the Thunder right in the middle of its playoff push. Stockton plays Idaho Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and travels to Bakersfield on Saturday.
“This is a great bunch of guys and we’re playing well,” Melanson said. “It’s going to take all of us to play together to win, and I think you’re going to see that.”