By Allan Muir
Here's the thing to keep in mind about the QMJHL's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and its decision to put an official end to Stefan Matteau's tenure with the organization this morning:
A club in the middle of the playoffs doesn't need distractions. And after Matteau walked out on his teammates following Sunday night's game, that's what the talented 2012 New Jersey first-rounder had become. So the Armada ensured that there was no way his future with the organization could be misconstrued. He's done, period. Time for the guys who want to be there to move on and focus on Game 3 against Baie Comeau.
And Matteau? Well, he's 19. Teenagers are hard-wired to make stupid decisions, and if it had been just one, or even two, maybe this situation doesn't play out the way it did. But he has a long, checkered history and it finally caught up with him.
First, here's what happened on Sunday night.
Late in the second period with the scored tied at one, Matteau was jabbed by a Baie Comeau player. He responded badly, taking a two-handed slash in retaliation that was caught by the officials.
It was an incredibly selfish reaction from a player whose discipline has been an issue in the past. So when he got out of the box, he went straight to the bench...and didn't leave it for the rest of the game.
That didn't sit well with Matteau, who informed the team after the game that he was quitting, and he hitched a ride back to BLB on the team's fan bus.
Oh, and it's probably worth mentioning here that his dad, former New York Ranger Stephane Matteau, is an assistant coach with the Armada. Proud moment for him, no doubt.
If this was the first sign that Stefan needed to grow up, then maybe the situation is handled differently. But over the past 36 months, he has seemed to take pride in his lack of discipline.
“For sure, I need to cool down," he told The New York Times just prior to being drafted in 2012. "But it’s the way I play. I’m going to get penalties.”
Penalties are one thing. These moments suggest something else.
2010-11 (USHL): He was given an eight-game suspension for intent to injure after charging an unsuspecting opponent.
2011-12 (USHL): He earned a seven-game suspension for cross-checking an opponent in the face and abusing a linesman who tried to intervene. Right after he returned, Matteau was handed a one-game suspension for a spearing an opponent in the groin.
2012-13 (QMJHL): After blowing off a commitment to North Dakota and joining the Armada, he was given a one-game suspension for a hit from behind and later, another game for being the aggressor in a fight. The Armada tacked on an additional match as internal discipline in hopes of knocking some sense into the kid.
He also received a 10-minute misconduct for a head shot in a pre-World Juniors exhibition game, which led Team USA to cut him from the squad.
And now this, the last straw after a series of lesser incidents.
It's clear that the Armada staff -- including his own father -- had run out of both options and patience with him. As coach Jean-Francois Houle said after the game, "We have values [on] our team. [Hockey] is not an individual sport."
That's something that Matteau has yet to figure out.
This isn't an ender for him, but someone needs to call a come-to-Jesus meeting. Whether it is his dad, his agent or the Devils, someone must step up and adjust his attitude. Playing with an edge is one thing. Playing with fire is another. The Armada finally decided the risk wasn't worth the reward. Next it might be New Jersey that comes to that conclusion. Matteau has been presented with a tremendous opportunity to have an NHL career. He needs to grow up fast before he blows it.