Auston Matthews' viral exchange with minor leaguer brings unwanted attention

Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander loved it. Mitch Marner said it was “unbelievable.” But I wouldn’t expect Auston Matthews to routinely pull the “name check” this season for the purpose of achieving more viral fame.

For one, the Scott Sabourins of the world will have returned to their natural habitats by then, running around exclusively in minor-league rinks with the sole purpose of injuring players.

But more important than that, the made-for-social media moment brought on some unwanted attention.

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For Matthews.

For Scott Sabourin.

“He slew-foot (Rielly), then hit me in the head,” said Andreas Johnsson of the Ottawa Senators farmhand’s overly reckless brand of play in Wednesday’s preseason matchup.

“I mean, obviously you’re going to play hard, but I feel like in the game you have to have respect for other players, too. And I feel like that guy didn’t have respect at all.

“I don’t think we should give him any attention,” he said, still sour over taking a shot to the head in an exhibition game.

With the liberties he took on Rielly and Johnsson, as well as his subsequent fight to atone for his behaviour with Leafs defenceman Ben Harpur, Sabourin clearly had the attention of the players in the 4-3 loss.

To truly enter the stream of consciousness for everyone else, though, the Ottawa farmhand had to feel the disrespect from the Leafs star centre during a stoppage in play.

Unharmed through it all, Matthews did see the humour in the viral clip, which saw him searching for the name on the back of Sabourin’s jersey to cut him down several sizes, but he also worked to pour cold water on the viciousness of the exchange.

“I mean, I think we were just messing around. He gave me a couple cross checks after the whistle. I mean it was nothing, all harmless. We just both messing around, got a chuckle out of it. It kinda blew up there, but it seemed to be just clickbait for [the media].”

Auston Matthews scored twice in the game, too, by the way. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Auston Matthews scored twice in the game, too, by the way. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Matthews said he didn’t quite learn the extent of Sabourin’s careless physicality until after the game when he saw replays of the trip on Rielly and blindside hit on Johnsson.

He expressed some disappointment given the circumstances, but what seemed to irk him the most about the entire the situation was being asked Friday to assess his ability to dole out verbal punishment.

“Yeah, I’ve been working on it in the summer, working with a coach and stuff,” Matthews said sarcastically, when asked if that part of his game has evolved.

Matthews earned plaudits from fans for his role in humbling Sabourin (oh, and for the two goals he scored in his preseason debut), but it was another response that received a stamp of approval from Mike Babcock.

Pointing to Harpur’s willingness to exchange punches as the preferred method to neutralizing the minimal impact a career minor leaguer can have on a hockey game, Babcock said:

“I thought Harps did a pretty good job with that, didn’t you?”

Like minor leaguers adding a dangerous element to largely meaningless preseason games, some things just don’t change.

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