Austin Matthews, welcome to the NHL record books.
It only took one game for the Toronto Maple Leafs wunderkind to etch his name into history, but becoming the player with a four-goal debut in a 5–4 overtime loss against the Senators in Ottawa on Wednesday night will do that.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Matthews said. “I couldn’t believe that was happening out there. It’s really something you can’t write up.”
Matthews wasted little time becoming the 12th No. 1 pick to score in his first game and opening the scoring on the 2016–17 season at 8:21 of the first period, banging a puck past Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
Just under six minutes later, he showed off the deft hands, feet and hockey sense that have been tantalizing fans, scouts and NHL front offices for years leading up to the 2016 draft with his second tally of the night, stripping the puck from two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson on his way to the net. In tying the score at two apiece, he became just the second No. 1 pick in history with a two-goal debut, following Alex Ovechkin’s first game with the Washington Capitals in 2005.
“The second one was kind of nice, just trying to stay on the puck,” Matthews said. “A lot of my game is competing for 50–50 battles and it was nice to sneak one in there.”
Ovechkin, the NHL’s reigning goal scoring champion, is some pretty good company, but Matthews wasn’t done yet. Just 1:25 into the second period, he became just the fourth player in the modern era to have a three-goal debut, joining Derek Stepan (Rangers, Oct. 9, 2010), Fabian Brunnstrom (Stars, Oct. 15, 2008) and Real Cloutier (Nordiques, Oct. 10, 1979). Matthews, however, got his quicker than all of them.
But the Scottsdale, Ariz., native took things a step further, depositing a beautiful saucer pass from fellow Leafs rookie William Nylander behind Anderson, making him the first player with a four-goal debut and the third-youngest player to score four times in a game. It’s safe to say the performance made an impression on his teammates.
“Everybody was just kind of like, ‘What’s going on here?’” Matthews said. “You don’t really draw it up like that.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “When you see that second goal he scored, not many guys do that. We were all part of history. From my perspective, since I’ve been the Leafs coach, that’s been the best night I’ve had here by 10 miles, not even close.”
Despite the history, however, Matthews took the blame for Kyle Turris’s overtime strike that gave Toronto the loss.
“I guess more of an ideal start to your season, I guess, individually. That last play was 100% my fault, obviously we came here to win and we didn’t get that done. A good learning point for myself and the team.”
Matthews certainly set the bar high just one game into his NHL career, and while it’s important to temper expectations for a 19-year-old rookie, it was certainly a memorable way to start things off—even making his mom cry in the stands.
“Those were tears of joy,” Ema Matthews told Sportsnet. “I feel very excited. This is what Auston has been dreaming since he was 6, playing right here in the NHL, so he’s doing it. So I’m very excited, very happy for him.”
“She’s very emotional when it comes to this kind of stuff,” Matthews said. “She’s been a huge part, along with my dad, in helping me get there, and I’m glad she could share the moment with me.”
While Maple Leafs fans were glad to get a glimpse of his NHL arrival, they’ll get an up-close look on Thursday, when the team faces its Atlantic Division rival Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.