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BUFFALO — When it comes to hockey, there was no stopping Matthew Savoie, even as a child.
Not even a significant gash on his leg that required him to go straight to the hospital to receive stitches and get his leg frozen after a bicycle pedal caught it while he was on a bike ramp outside his house.
Savoie, who was “8 or 9” at the time, was playing hockey hours later.
“I always want to be on the ice,” the 18-year-old Buffalo Sabres center prospect said. “Always want to be in the game, never want to take any time off. It’s just the kind of person I am.”
Savoie, the No. 9 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, has had the drive and passion for the game long before he had 90 points (35 goals, 55 assists) in 65 games for Winnipeg of the Western Hockey League last season. After two dominant seasons in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, Savoie (5-foot-9, 179 pounds) applied for exceptional status through Hockey Canada with his sights set on playing in the WHL as a 15-year-old. With that goal in mind, he completed his Grade 9 schooling in one summer so he could skip straight to Grade 10.
His exceptional status application was denied, but he didn’t dwell on that. Instead, it fueled him even more.
“I think a lot of my drive comes internal,” Savoie said. “I think I’m always a motivated person, always been dedicated. Just took it in stride and just look to keep improving from it.”
His competitiveness and love of the game stem from his household. Savoie’s father, Scott, grew up playing and also coached Matthew and his older brother, Carter, who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round (No. 100) of the 2020 NHL Draft. He and Carter would play on a little rink in the basement of their home in St. Albert, Alberta, each trying to get an edge over the other.
“On the ice, on the bench, he wants to be the guy,” said James Patrick, Savoie’s coach with Winnipeg and a veteran of 1,280 NHL games, including 345 with the Sabres. “He wants to play when the chips are down, he wants to play in all situations.”
The WHL “found a way to make it work,” according to Patrick, for Savoie to play in the league at 15, allowing him up to 34 games; the league said it gave him “special permission” to play. Savoie had seven assists in 22 games for Winnipeg before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the season.
“I think going through that experience at such a young age … I think that was huge for my development and as a person,” Savoie said.
It didn’t go unnoticed. Sabres center Peyton Krebs was Winnipeg captain at the time and said he was “pumped” when Buffalo selected him.
“He was special at that age, and you could see it,” Krebs said. “He’s a mature kid. He’s an awesome friend and awesome teammate. He works his brains out. You talk to anyone, they’ve got lots of good things to say about Matt.”
Krebs played a key role in Savoie becoming a WHL teammate. Savoie was deciding between following his brother to the University of Denver or playing major junior after Winnipeg selected him with the No. 1 pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. Krebs, himself a No. 1 pick, reached out.
“It was huge for me to see a guy go through that experience, learn a little bit from him,” Savoie said. “He’s a tremendous leader, a tremendous person. He’s really dialed in around the rink, he has good habits, so I think he’s a guy I can learn a lot from and continue to build a good relationship with.”
Savoie also has connections to Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, who recruited Savoie to play for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League in 2020-21 when uncertainty surrounded the WHL season due to the pandemic. Girgensons is an alumnus and part owner of the team.
“It’s quite the coincidence,” Savoie said. “But you know, just to see those familiar faces being in the same organization as a part of those guys, it’s been a blessing for sure.”
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