Checking in with Matt Nieto

Checking in with Matt Nieto
By Matt Alber
Sharks intern Matt Alber here, I will be checking in with various Worcester Sharks players throughout the offseason! My first victim is #40, forward Matt Nieto.
The Long Beach, California native Nieto was drafted by the Sharks in 2011 and played three seasons under future hall of fame coach Jack Parker at Boston University. After making the jump from the NCAA to the AHL in April, Nieto scored two goals in a brief 11 game stint at the end of the season with the Worcester Sharks.
Extremely busy traveling between Massachusetts & California as well as preparing for the upcoming Sharks training camp, the second round pick took the time to talk with me about his experience in Worcester, his plans for the summer, as well as what he enjoys doing outside of the rink.
The Sharks forward has fond memories of his short time in Worcester to end the 2012-13 campaign. “It was great to go in at the end of the season and get my first taste of professional hockey, it showed me what I need to work on moving forward to become a better player.”
As Matt is getting ready for his first NHL training camp, he gave me his thoughts on the road ahead, “I’m real excited for this opportunity I have ahead with the Sharks. Obviously I want to try to make (San Jose) coming out of camp, but right now I’m just focused on improving my game as a whole.  I’m still in Boston right now. I’m working out at BU with some of my old teammates, and it’s great to see those guys again.”
Although he is currently in Boston, Nieto spent some time back in Long Beach, CA after seasons end. When he goes back, he loves seeing his family as well as an old friend who is also making his way into the NHL. Matt grew up being close friends and teammates with another Long Beach native and Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem. “Etem grew up in the same town as me so we have always been close, and he is still one of my best friends now. When we see each other in Long Beach we hang out at the beach, or go to movies. I actually went to see him play in game 7 against Detroit this year and saw him briefly after that game. It’s crazy watching some of my closest friends playing in the playoffs, and I hope to be there playing with and against them soon.”
While he loves seeing family and friends, when Matt goes back home he makes sure to go offer help to one former coach in particular, “I like to help my old pee wee & bantam coach (Sandy Gasseau) with camps and clinics whenever I get the chance. Etem goes with me to help Sandy as well; we both played on teams growing up that he coached. He helped me a ton in developing me into the person and player I am today so I like to give back whenever I get the chance. It’s also never a bad thing to get out to California in that weather during the summer.”
Even though he grew up in California, he wasn’t exactly a Sharks fan before being drafted, “I was originally a Ducks fan when I was really young but my family and friends kind of turned me into a Kings fan as I was growing up and I loved the Kings for a while. Obviously that all changed when I was drafted by the Sharks.”
Being a professional hockey player is a very busy life and doesn’t leave a ton of free time. When not at the rink, one of the things he enjoys doing is hanging out with his Python, Jafar. “My dad had a snake when I was growing up so I’ve never been afraid of them. I love them, I have my own now and I hope to get more soon, they’re real friendly.” Not everyone has the same love for the slithery animal that Matt does, including his old Boston University teammate, Garrett Noonan. “Noonan was petrified of it. The first time I walked into the dorm with it, he jumped in his bed and hid under the covers.”

Just like many 20 year old kids, Nieto enjoys playing Xbox. “I’m a big Call of Duty guy, I definitely play it a good amount during the off-season, and it’s something a lot of the guys have gotten into, I play it a lot with Noonan. I’ve really never gotten into the NHL games believe it or not.”
Similar to most hockey players, the 20-year old forward is concerned with more than just his on-ice performance. He tries to be very involved in the community, including one cause that is very personal to him and his family. He helped out at an Autism Speaks Walk recently where he helped set up the event, walked with the participants and helped out by the finish line. “My little sister was diagnosed with Autism and Down Syndrome when she was young, so supporting these organizations is something I’ve done for a long time and take great pride in doing.”
Nieto is going to be keeping a very close eye on the Stanley Cup Finals. One of the NHL players he admires the most is Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks. ”I really look up to Jonathan Toews. I’ve always loved watching him play. He plays the right way and helps the team in any way he can. He has great offensive ability but is also very responsible defensively. A top notch two way player and he’s also a great leader. That’s shown by him being one of the youngest captains in the league. I try to model my game after him.”
Also playing in the finals this year is Matt’s former U.S. U18 National Team teammate, Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks. Nieto had some great things to say about his time playing with the Blackhawks rookie forward, ”Saad was one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever played with, he has a great opportunity to potentially win the Cup here and I’ll definitely be rooting for him to do well this series. I learned a lot from Saad about how to carry yourself on and off the ice.”
The final question I asked Nieto is whether he plans to attend any of the Stanley Cup Finals games, “I haven’t asked Saad about tickets yet, he has a lot on his mind. But now that you mention it, maybe it’s worth a try.”
The Sharks forward seems to have a very busy next few months ahead of him as he prepares for his first NHL training camp. If fans would like to keep up with what Matt Nieto is up to, they can follow him on Twitter @Matt_Nieto and on Instagram @MatthewNieto

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