Read well-schooled in opportunity

Flyers forward Matt Read talks with teammate Jaromir Jagr on the bench during a game against the...

Flyers forward Matt Read talks with teammate Jaromir Jagr on the bench during a game against the Jets at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Feb. 21, 2012. (TOM SZCZERBOWSKI/Getty Images/AFP)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:52 AM ET

EDMONTON - Matt Read has to pinch himself every morning to make sure he’s not dreaming.

A season ago, the Ilderton, Ont., native was playing out his final year of collegiate hockey at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, undrafted and uncertain about his future.

Now, he’s centring a line for the Philadelphia Flyers, with NHL legend Jaromir Jagr on one side and Danny Briere on the other.

“I think everything so far has kind of being surreal,” Read said. “I’m just taking it day-by-day so far, not knowing where I was going to be in the summer and making the opening-day roster was a huge thrill for me. Now we’re 50-some games into the season and it’s been a ball for me. So far it’s been the best year of my life.

“Every day, sitting next to this guy (Jagr), is amazing, you learn so much from him and Danny. I couldn’t ask for better linemates. It’s been a dream come true, one of those things that if you had a picture of Jagr and Briere and then you have one of those things where you print your own name on the back of the jersey between them, that’s how I feel right now.”

Heading into Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Read leads all NHL rookies with 16 goals on the year.

He’s currently third in rookie scoring with 34 points in 56 games, seven points back of Adam Henrique of the Carolina Hurricanes and one behind the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“I was a late developer,” said Read, 25. “I played junior A in Toronto for a year then went to Des Moines in the USHL for a while and got a scholarship to a small school and kind of rode the wave. I guess getting a chance to get a lot of ice time there and getting put into all kinds of different situations drew the attention of some NHL teams.”

Read signed as a free agent with the Flyers following his senior year at Bemidji State and finished last season with their AHL affiliate in Adirondack.

This fall, he was the surprise of training camp, making the opening night roster. He hasn’t looked back since.

“He’s been excellent,” said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. “We count on all our young players for a lot of different things, and we count on Matt for penalty kill, power play and five-on-five. For a first-year player to come in and contribute the way he has, he’s done a really nice job.”

Passed over in the NHL draft, Read never gave up on his NHL dream.

He sent out e-mails to teams in the USHL looking for a tryout and eventually landed one with the Des Moines Buccaneers, where he collected 62 points in 58 games in his final year of junior.

From there, he accepted a scholarship to Bemidji State, where education was as big a priority as hockey.

“I had a lot of offers from smaller schools, but I chose what I felt was the right fit and where I could go as a freshman and be a key player, get a lot of ice time and work my way from there,” Read said. “Bemidji is a small school, you don’t have too many guys making pro hockey out of there. But it was a great four years and I’m glad I went there.”

Read finished with 22 goals and 35 points in 37 games in his senior year with the Bemidji State Beavers, garnering attention from a handful of NHL clubs. The Flyers, however, were always his top choice.

“After my junior year I went to Philadelphia and watched a Stanley Cup playoff game and I felt like that was a team I wanted to play for,” Read said. “When they gave the call to offer me a contract, I knew right away that was the team I wanted to play for. Just the idea of them calling was exciting and I didn’t want to hear from another team.”

Read’s strong rookie campaign has worked him into the Calder Trophy conversation.

With Nugent-Hopkins currently out with a shoulder injury, the competition has opened up, and at very least, Read should be a finalist.

“It’s in the back of my mind, but I just come to the rink every day trying to do the best to help my team win,” he said. “That’s what’s important to me. If you get acknowledged at the end of the year for rookie of the year, that’s great, but I think I’d rather have a chance to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the year.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

@SUNdvandiest


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