Penguins Prospects & Staff Invade Erie, Määttä Maturing

Special thanks to Kenny Lindberg, Paul Pilatowski and the Erie Otters organization, as well as Natalie Wakabayshi, Rob Simpson, and the London Knights for allowing PensUniverse media access for the evening.

Erie Insurance Arena. All photo credits to Jamie Chimera.

Saturday night two of the Penguins recent defensive draft picks came to Erie with the London Knights In OHL action. 2011 pick Scott Harrington and 2012 pick Olli Määttä and the London Knights are off to a 3-2 start and would have to stop teenage phenom Connor McDavid. It is Harrington's fourth year with London and he wears the captain C while Määttä  had the A in his second year with the squad. 

Guerin speaks with Harrington and Määttä

Määttä was able to give us a few minutes before the game. The Knights bus arrived with little time to spare so we were unable to speak with Harrington.
Määttä prior to the match.

Määttä is a baby faced 6'2" defenseman from Jyväskyla, FInland. He has a sheepish and charming smile that shines through his broken English.  He thinks the OHL season is off to a good start but speaks with a maturity that shows his personality. It helps to be coached by Dale Hunter.

We had a couple losses and we need to grow up on the losses. This is a new game.  We are focused on Erie.
Opening faceoff

He laughed when asked if he could get on the score sheet against an Erie team that had given up 28 goals in six games.  Määttä is more worried about Keeping London's goals against low. They were giving up 2 per game coming into Saturday.

The only time Määttä lost the smile was when talking about his injury in the World Juniors.

It was dissappointing. I wanted to play for my country. I am lucky It was just a mild concussion. I mean I was able to play again in two weeks.
Knights coach Dale Hunter (right).

When asked about his style of play being described as intuitive or a smart, simple style he shook his head in agreement and said through some laughter, 

Yea, the basics.

Määttä said the game is a bit faster than in his homeland due in part to a smaller rink. He said it's not a puck possession game. Still he seems to have his head on straight in terms of where he stands with his game and getting to the NHL.

I'm not really thinking about when [I make the NHL]. Im just getting better and working on everything. Just want to be ready when the time comes. 
Määttä directs traffic.

Määttä was still gleaming about being drafted in Pittsburgh by the Penguins as one of two first round picks, along with Derrick Pouliot. 

It was awesome. It was so loud in there. I loved It.
Guerin discusses the game with Reirden. 

He enjoyed his experience in prospect camp. It was great for getting to know guys and the Pens system. Määttä said he only gets to talk to Harrington now that his season has started.  The duo would start on the blue line for the London Knights when the puck was dropped although it was a very brief stint on the ice.  Watching the game in the crowd were Penguins' coaches Dan Bylsma and Todd Reirden, as well as player development coach Bill Guerin and assistant general manager Jason Botterill.  

Harrington gets into position.
The game opened up with a showcase goal by McDavid, his league leading fourth on the young season.  He took on Harrington one on one and avoided a few stick checks, then shifted outside and glided around Harrington.  He would slide it around the goalie.  Harrington would not be shaken though as he and Määttä would have the assignment against the top line with McDavid most of the night.  Määttä would also be on the short side of a one on one situation as J.P. Labardo would beat the Finnish defender, but London goalie Kevin Bailie would make a sparkling save. 

Coach Reirden was impressed with what he saw from the prospects. 
They are doing what we taught them in the neutral zone and their puck retrieval is very noticeable.  What did they play in the first? I think it was about 12 minutes.  Harrington was out for four of the last five minutes.  

Reirden mentioned that he would normally have seen these guys in development camp and traveled to Erie after spending the week in Wilkes-Barre.  He, and presumably the rest of the Penguins' contingent, was heading back to Pittsburgh at the conclusion of the game.

The game would end in a 4-3 shootout victory for the Knights after they squandered a 3-1 lead.  Harrington would finish the night at a +2 and sit through the nine rounds in the shootout with only London's Kyle Platzler scoring.  Both teams has goals waved off in the third period.  Harrington was forced into a giveaway just prior to Erie's game tying goal, but also had the best chance to end it in overtime clanging a shot off the post.

London defenseman Miles Liberati of Cheswick, PA made his OHL debut.  Max Domi, son of Mario's Lemiuex's friend Tie, scored his third goal in the last two games.

Columbus general manager Scott Howson was also among those in attendance.

This is all possible because of the current NHL lockout.  These OHL games are always a good time and other Penguins' prospects will be coming through Erie as the season rolls on. Most fans would love to be enjoying NHL hockey.  When asked how the lockout is affecting him, Määttä's answer is something all fans can relate to now.

Obviously no one likes it. I wasn't able to attend a real camp. [pause] I can't watch games at night. That is the real big thing.

(Side note: While speaking with CJBK 1290 London, Hunter was asked about the lockout.  Obviously, he was just guessing but seemed to feel the All Star Game would be a drop dead point for the season and mentioned a 48 game schedule.  He felt the fans would love it if the game came back with the All Star Game as the kick off.  He wasn't making any predictions and it was clearly just free flowing thoughts, but it is interesting nonetheless.)


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