It's a Wednesday in August, at the height of hockey's cottage season -- when the NHL's general managers are sprawled across lake adjacent homes, mostly in Canada, Minnesota or Massachusetts, and league business enters snooze mode. Auston Matthews is at his off-season base too, but his is a 7,500-square-foot home at the foot of Camelback Mountain in Arizona. One of ice hockey's brightest stars finds his sanctuary amid cactuses and tumbleweeds.
And right now, it's anything but a snoozefest -- Matthews' home is bustling with activity. His best friend, former teammate Frederik Andersen, is lounging on the couch. His functional doctor -- "Dr. Steph" -- has flown in from Toronto and is setting up a treatment table in the living room. A few feet away in the kitchen, his personal chef -- "Chef Chris" -- is unloading jugs of mineral water from Whole Foods bags into the fridge. His agent, and his agent's assistant, are scurrying from room to room, popping in and out of Zoom calls, and his mom, Ema, and dad, Brian, have popped by to say hi; they live just 20 minutes away. Matthews' Aussie Bernedoodle, Felix, is buzzing around them all.
Matthews, in the center of it all, is glued to his TV. It's tuned to the early rounds of the U.S. Open tennis tournament -- which "would be sick" to attend one day, he says. Tennis is Matthews' latest obsession. "If he's into something, he goes in 100%, more so than I've ever seen in anyone," Andersen says. "If he wants to get good at golf, that's all he talks about. And right now he can't golf or skate because of his wrist, so it's tennis. Tennis everywhere. We're hitting balls all the time. He's watching it, thinking about it. He's on deep internet dives and asking all the questions to know how he can be the best at it."
The cause of Matthews' new dependence on tennis -- with a one-handed grip -- is one that had sent the hockey ecosystem shockwaves eight days earlier. The Maple Leafs issued a short press release announcing Matthews underwent wrist surgery. It was really not a big deal -- an overdue fix to a longstanding issue that flared up in offseason training. Matthews is sitting out a few games to start the season, but he plans to be at full-strength in no time. But when you're the star center of an Original Six franchise at the forefront of the buttoned-up hockey universe, even not a big deal is still a big deal. "Why didn't the Leafs get Matthews to have surgery earlier?" a headline on TSN asked. "Why Are the Maple Leafs So Quiet about Auston Matthews' Wrist Injury?" the blog NHLTradeTalk mused, citing the scarce info available, such as whether it was his left wrist or his right one.