Utility Man VanVoorhis Brings Championship Pedigree to K-Wings
BY PAM SHEBEST
When Matt VanVoorhis became available as a free agent last summer, Kalamazoo Wings coach Nick Bootland jumped at the chance to sign him.
‘We recruited him out of college (in 2017),” Bootland said. “We made a phone call to his staff but his coaches said they thought he had a chance to play in Europe. We liked the ability he had to skate. When we found out he was available this summer, he was someone we were already familiar with.”
VanVoorhis took that chance to play in Europe, signing with Norway’s Manglerud Star for two years before returning to the United States.
“I wanted to play a good level of hockey and get to experience a different country,” VanVoorhis said. “Oslo was a great place to do it.”
The defenseman had to make a few adjustments playing in Europe.
“The schedule was about half the games as it is over here,” he said. “Usually Thursday-Sunday games. In our league (GET-ligaen), about half the teams had NHL-size ice and half had Olympic-size. That was unique to our league. All the other European leagues have Olympic ice.”
VanVoorhis connected with the K-Wings while he was working out over the summer at Philosophy Hockey Training Center in Minnesota. K-Wings video coach Kyle Forte contacted a friend there asking about potential players. VanVoorhis was available so he packed his gear and headed to Kalamazoo.
While he started the season on the blue line, Bootland moved him to forward when injuries and AHL call-ups decimated the team’s numbers.
“I got to play some forward my first two years (at University of Denver) because my coach (Jim Montgomery) wanted to keep me in the lineup and there was a spot open at forward, so I’d play one night forward, one night defense on a weekend series,” VanVoorhis said. “I really became a student of the game.”
He used that experience when asked to play up this season.
“I talked with Coach Bootland and it seemed like the right decision for my career right now, being a smaller guy (5-foot-7),” he said. “Part of the appeal of my playing forward is I can use that speed more and contribute.”
Bootland said playing forward takes some pressure off the rookie.
“He can go out there and just play hard and skate hard and have fun because he can say, ‘If I make a mistake, I’m not a forward’,” said Bootland. “I think that brought out the best in him. He’s a bit hard on himself but at the same time he’s just a great kid, a great pro, and a guy who really emulates what we want our Kalamazoo Wings to be like.”
All of that came to a screeching halt when VanVoorhis was injured in a game mid-February.
To the Broadcast Booth
Now, instead of lacing up the skates, VanVoorhis is either watching from the stands or putting on the headphones in the broadcast booth with Voice of the K-Wings, John Peterson.
“It helps to be able to see the game. I can watch other guys like Tanner Sorenson and Kyle Blaney and see what they do and how they play the game and learn from what they are doing,” the rookie said. “Nobody likes to sit out games and I think when you do sit out, it can put that fire back into you to play the right way.”
On Feb. 25, he made his K-Wings broadcast debut.
“I’ve done it a couple times in juniors (with the Sioux Falls Stampede),” he said. “It’s just talking and analyzing the game. It’s what I know, it’s what I do.”
Peterson said VanVoorhis is usually a pretty quiet guy, so he was not sure what to expect.
“Once he got comfortable, he did a great job,” Peterson said.
VanVoorhis said Peterson “can be very funny. He made sure to include me after all whistles and had me involved.”
The rookie is not the first player to do a stint as Peterson’s sidekick and he welcomes the players’ insights. Dylan Sadowy, Boston Leier and Luke Sandler have also been in the booth.
“They bring a lot of knowledge of the game,” Peterson said. “I’ve been around the game my whole life, but I’ve never played the game at a high level. It always helps to have someone on the broadcast that can bring that element. They understand certain situations. They understand if the tempers heat up and there’s a scrum, how it develops, how you put it past you. They understand time-out situations, power play situations, things that to the casual viewer, you’re watching the game hoping for some entertainment but there’s a lot that goes into it strategy-wise.”
Path to the Pros
After his sophomore year of high school hockey, VanVoorhis was chosen for the U.S. National Development Team.
“It was a great opportunity, so I hopped all over it,” he said. “I went to Slovakia twice, Czech Republic and Sweden. We got to go all around Europe and play different countries and showcase our talent.”
There was no question that VanVoorhis was heading to college after playing for the National and Junior teams.
“I’ve always wanted to go to college,” he said. “It was never even a thought to go anywhere else. I value an education.”
He graduated with a degree in real estate/construction management.
The Pioneers made the NCAA Frozen Four twice, taking home the championship trophy his senior year. But his sophomore year at the Frozen Four caused a bit of split allegiance in his family. Denver lost to North Dakota, which went on to win the national title.
“Pretty much my whole family graduated from the University of North Dakota,” VanVoorhis said. “If it was my grandpa’s choice, it would have been North Dakota and Denver going to overtime. I score a hat trick, but they win.”
Losing that year helped Denver become national champs two years later.
“It gave us the idea of what we needed to do to win,” he said. “It was the dedication to stick to our game and not let the lights and all the distractions around distract us. It was all business. We knew what it took and we had a great team.”