Ashman key in Knights' defence

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

He's safe, reliable, predictable, consistent and trustworthy.

It doesn't sound like the most exciting description of life on the ice.

But when you're talking about defence, all of that is good, very good.

London Knights' defenceman Matt Ashman is all of that. There are others who are flashier and may get more pub but the guy who has put together a darn nice success story gives his coach a good feeling when he's out there.

If you make your coach feel good, chances are pretty good you'll wind up reaping the benefits.

"I trust him," said Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu who handles the defence. "I trust him a lot. He's one of my top four guys. He's on the first unit when it comes to penalty killing. He knows what I want out of him defensively and he does it."

Ashman took a while to make it in junior hockey and now that he's here, he often flies under the radar. He isn't noticed because he doesn't put a lot of points on the board and he isn't noticed because he doesn't make a lot of mistakes.

That's fine with him.

"Sometimes when people don't notice you, that's a good thing," Ashman said. "When they don't notice you aren't messing up. I've always been a guy that's been under cover and gets the job done in his own end."

It's a pretty good resume if you are a defenceman.

"He knows what his limits are," Beaulieu said. "He knows he isn't going to go goal line to goal line so he doesn't try. I'm ecstatic with how he is playing."

Ashman played junior B hockey in London and tried for several years to crack the Knights' lineup. This year, he's made it big time, taking down a lot of ice time and playing a key defensive role on a team that has trouble scoring goals and needs all the defence it can get.

That defence will get tested to an even greater degree as the world junior hockey tournament begins since the Knights lose Nazem Kadri and Phil McRae, two of their top scorers.

He doesn't consider himself a Cinderella story.

"It was definitely a tough organization to jump into. They been considered a Top 10 organization in the CHL," Ashman said. "This year, I really worked hard in the off season and it was a really good year to jump on to the back end and I'm just going with it right now."

The numbers speak to how well he has played and he's played that well because he understands his game.

"I know what I can do out there," Ashman said. "There's no point in being a huge offensive defenceman when you're a reliable defensive defenceman. I really focus on my defensive game. I don't try and do too much out there and it's been pretty successful for me so far."

As for the numbers, Ashman and his defensive partner Steve Tarasuk are among Ontario Hockey League leaders in plus/minus at plus-21.

"It's incredible playing with him," Tarasuk said. "He's a good, stable defenceman. He likes to make safe plays and do the sure thing. When you are playing in your own end, he's a guy you want to be on with. He's safe, physical and he gets pucks out really well."

Tarasuk and Ashman fit well together. Tarasuk likes to go with the puck when he gets the chance. He has 10 goals and 17 assists on the season to sit tied for third in Knights' scoring.

"He and I usually talk about that," Tarasuk said, who is putting together a pretty good season of his own. "He says 'you have the green light, you go and I'll stay back and cover you.' But he also says 'you make sure you get back if you do go,' so it's nice playing with him."

Ashman credits Beaulieu with giving him a chance to play, allowing his to improve and play with greater confidence.

Beaulieu says he wanted to get Ashman to come to play with the Saint John Sea Dogs, where Beaulieu was the coach and general manager last year. But Ashman stuck with the Knights.

"I didn't know that," Ashman said. "I probably wouldn't have gone anyway because my French is so bad. Jacques would have had to be my personal translator."

Ashman now clearly gives off the vibes of a confident player.

"Confidence is definitely a huge part of the game," Ashman said. "I always felt that I personally could play at this level. I worked hard this summer to prove that to some doubters."

He's certainly on his way to doing that.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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