LAKE WYLIE — A day after the best hockey players in the world take to the Olympic ice, some of the best youth hockey players in the world will test their mettle.
Somehow, one of them calls Lake Wylie home.
“It’s like, oh, that’s different,” Jared Matley said, of the most common reaction when friends and teachers learn he plays the sport.
Matley, 12, is in seventh grade at Oakridge Middle School. His family moved to Autumn Cove before he was old enough to remember. They came from Illinois and his dad, Ronald, hails from Michigan. Visits back home sparked an interest in the sport not common to the warmer climate of Lake Wylie.
“I saw my older brother and sister skating around, and I thought it was cool,” Matley said.
Last year, Matley played with the Carolina Hurricanes youth team out of Raleigh, N.C., in the World Championship of Pee Wee Hockey in Quebec City, Canada. About 50 people tried out with 18 making the squad. In its 54th year, the event hosted teams from 12 countries.
The Hurricanes lost their only two games in the double elimination format, but Matley did score the team’s first goal and later added an assist. This year, he’ll return for his second and final go at the tournament, this time as a member of the Atlanta Fire.
Youth hockey, especially in this part of the country, often means teaming up with select squads from across the nation for large events rather than league play more common to baseball or basketball. Matley plays in the summer for a Detroit team. He practices three times a week at a rink in Pineville, N.C., with a few other players from other squads.
Last year’s championship tournament, the rough hockey equivalent of the Little Little World Series in baseball, took 10 school days. That’s as many as Matley can miss a year per school policy. This year the family budgeted nine days for the event but got a wrench thrown in at the last minute.
School has to make up a snow day.
Regardless, the Matleys plan to make sure hockey isn’t played at the expense of school. The center on ice is an honor roll student in the classroom, and mom Marie plans to keep it that way.
“School comes first,” she said.
He’d love to play for the University of Michigan and in the National Hockey League. For now he’s pumped for the youth championships beginning Wednesday, Feb. 12, and running through Feb. 24. There’s no guarantee how many arena games he’ll play, but Matley might be as excited for the hockey he’ll play with locals.
“I’m going to play pond hockey,” he said.