Past Champions Thomas, Matsos Bring Wealth of Experience to Bulldogs

Mastercard Memorial Cup

The Hamilton Bulldogs hoisted the Robertson Cup as OHL Champions and reached the Mastercard Memorial Cup in just their third season, but this week’s experience in Regina isn’t everyone in the organization’s first rodeo.

St. Louis Blues first round pick Robert Thomas won an OHL Championship and Mastercard Memorial Cup title with the London Knights in 2016 before capturing gold with Canada’s National Junior Team this past Christmas in Buffalo, New York. Additionally, associate coach Dave Matsos is one of a handful of players to have suited up in three consecutive Mastercard Memorial Cup tournaments, doing so as an OHL Champion with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 1991 and 1992 before winning a national championship as a member of the host Greyhounds in 1993.

Both were additions to the Bulldogs this past season and it’s needless to say that general manager Steve Staios found the perfect fit in both cases.

“When Steve had a vision in place this past season, it wasn’t about going and adding necessarily the best players, but he was really specific on the sorts of people he wanted to add to our dressing room,” noted Matsos. “We’ve got a great leader in Justin Lemcke who just won the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy and our dressing room is as clean as I’ve ever seen. These guys love to play together, so it was really important that we brought in the right people to complement what we already had in place.

“For a guy like Robbie to come into this room with the highest of accolades, it’s a responsibility and I’m sure an honour for him to walk these guys through the peaks and valleys of a short tournament,” Matsos added. “He’s kept the guys calm and led by example here.”

Thomas’ play as a Bulldog gradually ramped up. He registered 29 regular season points (4-25–29) in 22 games after being acquired from the London Knights in January before earning the Wayne Gretzky ’99’ Award as OHL Playoff MVP with 32 points (12-20–32) in 21 post-season contests.

“I think I’ve sort of helped to be a little bit of a calming influence,” Thomas said ahead of tonight’s matchup against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. “Our emotions are so high and everyone wants to win so badly that sometimes we run around a bit. When we stayed calm and played our game last night we played really strong and took it to them.”

Thomas is a key to success every night, but Matsos has proved to be quite an addition as well.

After spending four seasons with the Sudbury Wolves including the last two as their head coach, the 44-year-old connected with Staios and joined the Bulldogs to begin the 2017-18 season.

“Dave has meant a lot to our organization,” commented head coach John Gruden. “I’d met him a few times when he was in Sudbury and knew he was Bob Boughner’s brother-in-law, but he’s been a perfect fit and along with Vince Laise and Ron Wilson has really rounded out our coaching staff.”

Matsos was one of nine Greyhounds to play in three straight tournaments, joining a pair of other present-day coaches in Greyhounds head coach Drew Bannister as well as former captain and now-Binghamton Devils bench boss Rick Kowalsky on the journey.

While a lot has changed in the 25 years since Matsos last raised the Memorial Cup, certain aspects of the game have remained constant.

“Technology has changed and they’ve taken the red line out,” he said with a laugh,” but one of the things that doesn’t change is that you have to have the right people in place and our management team has done a tremendous job ensuring our dressing room is full of quality young men.”

‘They’re a really humble bunch,” he continued. “Not a lot of egos in there and they love to be a part of the community. They’ve got a deep care for each other, a deep care for the kids who come out to watch them play and things are always done by committee.”

Matsos, Thomas and the Bulldogs are back in action for the second straight night, taking on the undefeated Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Sportsnet, TVA Sports and NHL Network when the puck drops at 8:00pm MT/10:00pm ET. The outcome of tonight’s contest will go a long way toward deciding which one of these teams will advance to Sunday’s Mastercard Memorial Cup Final.

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