Two months ago few in the OHL had heard of Derek Mathers – people know his name now.
The London Knights acquired tough guy Victor Terreri from the Oshawa Generals in the pre-season looking to add muscle to their line-up. Terreri slugged his way through the OHL last season earning a solid reputation as one of the league's tougher players.
When Mathers, a little-known rookie fighting to earn a roster spot with the Peterborough Petes, dropped Terreri and left him a bloody mess in a pre-season game people took notice.
At least 4,186 people took notice because that's how many have watched the fight on Youtube.
Mathers has continued to establish himself, at just age 17, as a legitimate heavyweight. He's manhandled most of his eight opponents this season, including Terreri again on Saturday, and ranks second in the league with 46 penalty minutes – only six of those minutes are minor penalties.
OHL GMs certainly know Mathers. Petes' GM Dave Reid says Mathers is one of the first players other teams ask for in trade talks. Don't worry, says Reid, he's holding onto Mathers.
You won't convince Mathers the hockey enforcer is going the way of the dinosaur. While amateur leagues have introduced rules to curb fighting, the hulking six-foot-three, 230-pound Strathroy native believes it plays a legitimate role in the sport.
"Fighting has always been a part of hockey and should be," Mathers said. "You don't need to be a fighter. You can be a player who doesn't do it, but there are certain times when it's needed."
Mathers believes having an intimidating presence in the line-up keeps opposing players honest.
"I'll stick up for my teammates. I love doing that or to give the team a spark," he said. "I know when someone else fights it gets me going. If I do it, it should get my team going and the crowd into the game."
Don't get the wrong impression of Mathers.
Off the ice he's easy-going, good-humoured and popular with teammates. On it, he's an honest player as his three minor penalties attest.
"I've been very impressed with Derek from the moment I met him," said Petes' coach Mike Pelino. "He's a very positive and enthusiastic young man who is willing to do anything he can to help the Peterborough Petes and his teammates. He came to this organization as a defenceman and we wanted to see if he could play forward for us. He jumped at the opportunity to do anything he could to make this hockey team."
He says Mathers is fully aware he must be more than a fighter if he's going to make hockey a career.
"He's developing nicely from a skill standpoint," said Pelino. "Like any hockey player this age he has things to work on like skating, puck handling, the basic skills. He's doing extra stuff off the ice and on the ice. He's asking his coaches to help him and his teammates. He's shooting extra pucks around. He's doing everything he can to make himself the best hockey player he can be. On top of that, he's got an attitude and an ability to be a real physical presence out there. An intimidating presence. I think we've seen that.
"He's someone his teammates admire and appreciate because the toughest job in hockey is to go out there and be willing to throw your gloves off and fight for your team. Derek does it because he's good at it and because he knows it helps his teammates."
Mathers gets his size from his mother Bonnie's side of the family. His uncle is NHL referee Don Van Massenhoven who is among the tallest officials at six-foot-six. Derek's 14-year-old brother Chad is six-foot-seven. He plays house league hockey for fun and isn't pursuing a hockey career, said Derek.
NOTES: The Petes host the Oshawa Generals 7 p.m. Thursday before travelling to Ottawa on Friday and hosting the 67's at 7 p.m. on Saturday... Collins Barrow Kawarthas, Chartered Accountants, will give away binoculars to the first 400 fans arriving for Thursday's game.
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