Matthew nieto might be one of the most unlikely budding hockey stars you’ll find.
Hailing from a Long Beach, Calif., neighborhood that had more gangs than hockey teams, it would have appeared an ice rink would be the last place you’d find Nieto. However, when he received a plastic hockey stick as a gift from his grandfather, Nieto never saw himself doing anything else.
After spending hours pushing balls and pucks around his street, Nieto’s parents contacted the local YMCA to sign him up for inline hockey. After a two-year stint on wheels, Nieto made the jump to the ice and the rest, as they say, is history.
Despite growing up in what Nieto called a “tough” neighborhood where the allure of gangs is a part of life, hockey proved to be the best distraction the young Californian could ask for.
“My parents [Jesse and Mary] raised me well,” Nieto said. “I just tried to work around it, stay focused on my goals, and that’s what got me here today.”
Today, Nieto is turning more than a few heads as a member of the U.S. National Under-18 Team at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Matthew Nieto | #19
“I’m very offensive, but I like to do my part defensively as well” Nieto said in describing his style on the ice.
Last season, Nieto played 51 games with the U.S. National Under-17 Team before being called up to the Under-18 squad just prior to the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
At the end of the 2008-09 campaign, Nieto had compiled an NTDP leading 67 points and 41 assists, but no point was bigger than the one that came at the most crucial of times.
With the gold medal on the line at the World Under-18 Championship, Nieto punched home Team USA’s second goal in a 5-0 victory over Russia in front of a capacity crowd in Fargo, N.D.
“It was a great feeling. The crowd was going crazy. That was definitely a highlight of my career,” Nieto said about lighting the lamp in the gold-medal game.
“It was an honor to get moved up to that team, and I tried to make the most of it. It was unbelievable to win a gold medal on home soil, indescribable.”
This year, Nieto is looking to be a big contributor on a team loaded with talent. Gaining valuable experience with the Under-18 Team last season is something Nieto thinks will pay big dividends this year.
“I think I know what to expect this year and I know what it’s going to take to be successful,” he said. “I’m just going to try and get better every day and try to make the team better as well.”
Nieto wasted no time getting his season off on the right foot during the U.S. National Under-18 Team’s season-opening game against the University of Waterloo (Ont.), by scoring a goal in an 8-0 victory.
While he is remaining focused on bringing a consistent game to the ice every night, Nieto also would like to add some new elements to his game.
“I think I could play a little grittier and just play harder, tougher overall,” he said.
With a November birthday, Nieto won’t be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2011, giving him plenty of time to continue to grow as a player. With loads of potential and a great work ethic, the buzz surrounding the speedy forward is sure to grow.
From a plastic hockey stick to the National Team Development Program, the sky is the limit for Matthew Nieto.
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Emily was introduced to hockey in second grade when her brother started playing inline hockey. She joined him and was encouraged to attend inline camps by her parents.
Emily eventually switched to ice hockey and hasn’t looked back. Now in her senior year of high school, she plays for the Hericanes in the Houston-area Interscholastic Hockey League.
However, Emily’s athletic talents aren’t limited to the ice. She also plays for the Klein Oak High School varsity golf team, and played lacrosse for a few years. But Emily’s real passion lies not in sports, but music.
She is a talented piano player and hopes to continue her musical journey into college with a major in piano performance in addition to staying on the ice.