Saturday morning St. Albert native Matteo Gennaro was starting to feel nervous as he watched the NHL draft unfold on TV with his family. Round after round went by without his name being called. Finally his hockey dreams were realized when the Winnipeg Jets selected him as the 203rd pick of the 211 players chosen in the 2015 NHL draft. Gennaro, 18, spoke to the Gazette on Monday to discuss the draft and his hockey career.
Gazette: What has the experience of being drafted in the NHL been like for you?
Gennaro: It has been really humbling. I was fortunate enough to watch the draft at home with my family and it was a really cool experience to have happened with them.
Gazette: How did you find out you were drafted?
Gennaro: I was just watching at home on the TV and following along on my phone. When it happened I got a call from my agent and he ended up telling me first. I just looked at my phone and my name popped up. After that I got a call from the Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and he welcomed me and congratulated me.
Gazette: Had you been in contact with Winnipeg before the draft?
Gennaro: Yeah. I probably spoke with them twice throughout the year. I had a really solid conversation with their main scout about a week and a half before the draft happened. I wasn’t too shocked when I found out that the team that selected me was Winnipeg.
Gazette: What is the best advice you received during this time?
Gennaro: I got good advice from my cousin Fernando Pisani (former Edmonton Oiler and Chicago Blackhawk). He said it doesn’t matter at all when you get drafted. He just told me don’t really be discouraged by it. You have just the same chance to impress Winnipeg and earn a spot on their team as someone who went in the first round.
Gazette: How do you feel about playing in a Canadian market?
Gennaro: I am really excited about that. I know from watching that Winnipeg fans are crazy fans and hockey is huge in Winnipeg. I’m pretty excited already. I made a tweet a couple days ago and I already have a bunch of fans tweeting at me. It’s pretty cool.
Gazette: You really picked up speed the second half of this season with the Prince Albert Raiders scoring 25 of your 31 points in the 2015 portion of the season. What was the reason for this surge?
Gennaro: It was an interesting year to say the least. We had a coaching change halfway through the year and lots of trades this year. I was really happy with the addition of our new coach Marc Habscheid. He really took good care of me. He highlighted a few things in my game that I didn’t really recognize.
A big part of it was the opportunity he gave me. He played me in different situations I had never been in. I was getting power play time and penalty kill time and just playing a lot of solid minutes. Marc just believed in me and kept playing me and I gained confidence from him. I really gained confidence in myself. The opportunity that Marc gave me had a lot to do with my success.
Gazette: How would you describe your style of play?
Gennaro: I am a two-way forward. I like to think that I’m a pretty offensive player. I like scoring goals and creating plays but I’m responsible in my own end too. I’m also a bigger guy so I like the physical part of the game. I know I have to be gritty and edgy.
Gazette: Is there any player you would compare your game to?
Gennaro: I think the game play that I want to work towards is someone like Rick Nash. He is big and fast. He likes to score goals and has a nose for the net.
Gazette: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Gennaro: Playing in the U17 World Hockey Challenge for Canada on Team Pacific. We made it all the way to the final but ended up losing that game to the Americans. It was my first international hockey experience. I was pretty successful in the tournament and I was the leading scorer on my team.
Gazette: How old were you when you started playing hockey?
Gennaro: Probably three years old. I remember playing at such a young age that I was a year younger than everyone. I remember being a little guy with red pants.
Gazette: Do you remember scoring your first goal?
Gennaro: I scored my first hockey goal ever against my own team. My dad said I just took the puck away from everyone and skated towards my own net and ripped one in the five hole of my goalie.
Gazette: Who has had the biggest impact on your career?
Gennaro: My dad, Nazz. He’s been my number one supporter all along and he introduced me to hockey when I was young. He always watches me and he is my biggest motivator. He taught me a lot. You can’t beat family. They are always going to be there and be your best fans.
Do you have plans with school going forward? What are your plans for the future?
I will be returning to Prince Albert next year to play with the Raiders. Right now I’m not really thinking too much about post secondary. It’s nice having the WHL scholarship money so if hockey doesn’t work out I always have that. I’m just really focused on hockey and I want to be playing in the NHL.
St. Albert, Alta.
Prince Albert Raiders