When the Toronto Maple Leafs started cleaning house last week, Shawn Matthias was one of the first players on the move. The 28-year old former second round draft pick of the Red Wings had spent the majority of his career with the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks, and after signing a one-year deal in Toronto this past offseason as an unrestricted free agent, he was dealt to the Avalanche in exchange for AHL center Colin Smith and a 4th Round pick.
Matthias has barely had time to catch his breath since last Sunday, but the transition is going pretty well, and he credits his new teammates. "It's been good. They have a great group of guys here; they make it easier. It's a testament to who they are and what kind of locker room they have."
That isn't to say there haven't been obstacles. "It's tough whenever you go to a new team, learning the systems, knowing the guys, getting used to guys calling you [on the ice]. Different voices, different names -- all the nicknames. It's all natural for them already. It's going to take some time, but it's going to come."
But his biggest challenge has been one familiar to countless others who have moved to Denver to play hockey -- elevation. Matthias didn't notice it much during his first game, when he scored a goal in a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks, but following Saturday's loss to the Red Wings at Coors Field, he had clearer idea of what it means to play a mile above sea level. "I felt a lot more of the altitude today."
The trade did mean he got to play in his first outdoor game, though, an experience he really enjoyed despite the loss. "It was a tough one out there tonight. The puck was bouncing. It was hard, but it was a good experience. In your first outdoor game you really don't know what to expect."
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Matthias and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche will attempt to get back on track Tuesday in Minnesota when they take on the Wild. Neck-and-neck in the standings for the Western Conference's final playoff spot, the Avs are four points ahead, but the Wild as of this writing have played two fewer games. Minnesota has won two of the season's three meetings, including a big 5-4 come-from-behind victory in Denver on opening night.
Nathan MacKinnon, in the locker room after Saturday's loss, had already set his sights on the Wild. "It's a four-point game. We can create more space [in the standings], or they could catch us. We had troubles in that building, but we're excited for it."