David Matte is a man of few words - these days.
That’s quite alright: as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Suffice to say that the 59 year-old native and current resident of Levack would see enough action between the pipes during his time in the Maritimes, leading teams to titles at outposts near and far, eventually warranting his recent induction into the Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame.
While a variety of health conditions render a lengthy conversation with Matte somewhat challenging, an assortment of scrapbooks and pictures more than do justice to the three time Allan Cup champion – with three different teams, no less – as David and his mother, Joan, welcome folks into their home.
A well-recognized name during his minor and junior hockey days on a local level, the son of a former goalie (Ron Matte) took little time making his way to the position that was his destiny. Well, OK, maybe he didn’t exactly make his own way there.
“When he started playing hockey in the old Levack Arena, Sid Kemp was his coach,” recalled Joan, 85 years young. “David (he was a defenceman, at the time) had asthma really bad, so Sid would just pick him up and bring him the rest of the way up the ice. After a couple of weeks, he just picked him up and plunked him in net.”
Good choice, Mister Kemp.
By the age of eleven, David Matte was backstopping the neighbourhood lads to the International Silver Stick, cracking the Novice division all-star team in 1973. Staying close to home, Matte partnered, somewhat ironically, with Bert Kemp (the son of his first ever coach), leading the Onaping Falls Huskies to three straight NOJHL championships: 1979-1980, 1980-1981 and 1981-1982.
A short stint with coach Moe Bartoli and the Laurentian Voyageurs would eventually give way to an incredible run of success in eastern Canada, where Matte became the key cog for a handful of championship teams, beginning his journey with the Corner Brook Royals.
Words might escape the ultra-friendly former puck-stopper from time to time, but not when it comes to his home away from home, an journey which was initially created thanks to former Onaping Falls’ teammate and long-time friend, Tony Cuomo.
“I liked playing in Newfoundland, really loved it there,” said Matte. “The people there were beautiful.”
Nicknamed “Oakie”, Matte would hear the fanatic Newfoundlanders chant his name frequently, the raucous and boisterous fans of the Humber Gardens so enamoured with their Ontario import.
“It’s just phenomenal the way that he can lift a team,” noted coach Mike Anderson in an article that appeared in a Maritime publication in 1986. “He would block shots which appeared to be sure goals. When the rest of the team might falter, he was there to stave off our opponents.”
The timing, for Matte, was perfect.
The year prior to his arrival in Newfoundland, Corner Brook had dropped game seven of the Allan Cup final to the Thunder Bay Twins. Twelve months later, Matte would be recognized as both the top goaltender in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League and also the MVP of the loop.
Capturing both the Herder Memorial Trophy and the Bolton Cup along the way, Matte and his mates would make quick work of the Nelson (B.C.) Maple Leafs at nationals, sweeping the west coast crew in four straight games to bring home the first ever Allan Cup banner to the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean.
Starting all 17 post-season games in net that spring and turning aside more than 90% of the shots that he faced against the Leafs, Matte was named Allan Cup MVP. In fact, the playoffs were typically the time when the 6’3” goaltender would elevate his game the most, rising to the occasion time and time again.
Suiting up with the St John’s Capitals the following year, Matte and company would find themselves in tough, battling Brantford Motts Clamatos, the eventual Canadian champs. With former NHLer Rocky Saganuik behind the bench and legendary Buffalo Sabres’ netminder Don Edwards as the last line of defense, Brantford was clearly favoured against the Caps.
“We outplayed them and they know we did, but their goalie (Matte) stood on his ear to make some great saves,” said Saganuik, in the aftermath of a 6-4 game one loss. While Brantford would go on to claim the series and the 1988 Allan Cup, Matte, for his part, was far from done.
With plenty still left in the tank, the fierce competitor who initially replaced Sturgeon Falls’ native Mike Frawley in his rookie year in Corner Brook would earn a measure of revenge, winning the Allan Cup in both 1991 (with the Charlottetown Islanders) and in 1992 (with Saint John Vito’s).
For those who recall the era, few will bat an eye at one of Matte’s idols of the time.
“I’m older than him, but I like Ron Hextall as a goaltender,” he noted, during a season spent in Campbellton (New Brunswick). “I like his style – but I am trying to stay away from penalties. We’re getting enough of them as it is.”
A pretty talented all-around athlete, Matte could also more than hold his own as a pitcher in the local fastball circuit, with good genetics clearly part of the picture. His father, Ron, was a catcher with the notable Pepsi’s team back in the day, often the battery mate of choice of legendary flame-thrower Metro Szeryk.
With Matte unable to make the trip to Newfoundland last month, Tony Cuomo accepted the Hall of Fame recognition in his stead, with celebrations held on the same day (November 13th) as David’s father’s birthday.
What else really needs to be said?
Well done, David Matte.