From 2012-2014, Matt Ustaski enjoyed a fantastic career with the Langley Rivermen. His breakout year was in 2013-14, where he recorded a career high in goals (29), assists (20), and points (49) in 54 games. The Winnipeg Jets were well aware what Matt was doing, and drafted him in the seventh round (192nd overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 6’6″ centre is in his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin and checked in with Langleyrivermen.com.
LR: How is life been at the University of Wisconsin?
MU: Life has been busy at school. Being a student-athlete mixes academics with athletics and it’s hard to find a balance sometimes. My days are full consisting of workouts, practice, classes, and homework. It gives me little free time, but I like this lifestyle.
LR: What is the campus and facility like?
MU: The campus and facilities are unreal. Wisconsin is a real college town and always has something going on. It would be hard to find a day where students weren’t out and about, making the campus life alive. The facilities we have here are first class. The Kohl Center (our rink), our locker room and weight room, and our Tutor Center are all under one roof, which is convenient and where I spend most of my time.
LR: How big of an eye opener was your freshman year in 2014-15?
MU: The college hockey style was a bit of an eye opener. The difference between the BCHL and college wasn’t a huge transition for me as I felt comfortable after a few months. The college hockey style, though, is systematic and playing other teams is more strategic and more planning is done during the week for the opponent you are facing that weekend.
LR: What are your expectations in your sophomore year?
MU: I expect to continue to grow in my development as an all-around player. I have professional hockey ambitions and I feel I’m taking the necessary steps each year in order to achieve my goal.
LR: How much has your life changed after being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 2014?
MU: Life is a little different since getting drafted. It’s an exciting thing for myself and my family to celebrate as it is a huge life accomplishment for me. Getting drafted is only the start of what I hope to be a successful pro career.
LR: Has the Jets organization revealed what kind of plans they have with regards to yourself?
MU: Taking it year by year to mold myself into a pro player is the plan as of now. My physical development is still in progress and I feel I’m on the right track. Taking a strong mental approach to the game of hockey is also important for my confidence and abilities on the ice.
LR: Your family (especially your dad Mike) was a frequent visitor to the LEC during your time with the Rivermen. How often does he and the family visit you in Wisconsin?
MU: One of the reasons I chose Wisconsin is that it’s been my dream school to play at since I was a kid. It’s the closest Division I hockey program to my house, which is only a couple hours from home. My parents come to every home weekend series of games, as it’s a short drive for them to see me play. My mom and dad loved coming to Langley as well, as they were always welcomed by my billet family, the Kredba’s, who also did a great job taking care of me for two years.
LR: Your family members are huge Chicago Blackhawks fans. What is the deal now that you are property of the Jets?
MU: My entire family is mostly from the Chicago area so they are Blackhawks fans. Obviously they wanted me to get drafted by them and play for them, but they still said they would root for me if I play in Winnipeg. Both the Blackhawks and Jets play in the central division so they play each other many times a year, and I always get texts from family members when they play regardless of who wins.
LR: Do you keep in close contact with any former Rivermen teammates?
MU: I keep in close contact with both of my former roommates that lived with me at the Kredba household. Derek Sutliffe who is at St. Scholastica and Chris Forney who is at Umass-Lowell. Chris and I talk often as we like to share how different our experiences are going at our Universities. I also talk to my former linemates Mitch Mclain and Jakob Reichert, who are both are Bowling Green. It’s nice to see guys every time I play a former Rivermen teammate in the NCAA as well.
LR: What were your greatest Rivermen memories in your two seasons with the franchise?
MU: First memory was myscoring my first ever career overtime winner against Vernon when my Dad came to watch the same weekend I scored my first BCHL goal. Second memory would be my first hat-trick against Chilliwack, an accolade I’d been wanting my whole BCHL career. Third memory would be clinching the BCHL regular season league title my second year. We had two hard fought games up in Prince George we needed to win in order to clinch, which made everything about that trip special. I ended up scoring the game winning goal to win 3-2 in the second game that clinched the title.
LR: Looking back at your career, have you surprised even yourself with what you have been able to accomplish these past four years?
MU: I wouldn’t use the word surprised, as I’ve always known what I’m capable of, but I have made plenty of big leaps these past four years. When in high school playing at Wisconsin was still a dream for me, but now that I’m here I know I’m capable of doing more and more, hopefully getting my chance at the pros soon.
Photo credit: Dave Sandford