July 17th, 2024

Best friends Conor Geekie, Denton Mateychuk hoping for more memories at world juniors

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on December 12, 2023.

Canada forward Conor Geekie, left, battles for the puck in practice during the Canadian World Juniors selection camp in Oakville, Ont., on Monday, December 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – Conor Geekie and Denton Mateychuk were rivals.

Then they were teammates. And not long after that, best friends.

A bond forged inside Manitoba’s arenas and on the province’s baseball diamonds brought the pair close as they challenged, pushed and supported each other.

Now they sit on the cusp of making another, much bigger, memory.

Geekie and Mateychuk are among 30 hopefuls attending Canada’s selection camp ahead of the world junior hockey championship set to open Dec. 26 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“It’s been crazy,” Geekie said. “It seems we always run into each other on the rink or on the field. We became pretty close through it all.

“Best friends for quite some time now. It’s pretty special.”

Geekie grew up about 250 kilometres west of Winnipeg in the town of Strathclair, while Mateychuk is from Dominion City – which is definitely not a city – roughly 90 kilometres south of the provincial capital.

The duo suited up on opposite sides in minor hockey during the frigid Prairie winter, but were teammates for the sport’s spring season.

“Pretty competitive guys,” Mateychuk said. “When we’re playing against each other, we’re both going pretty hard.”

The brotherhood, however, really stuck on the baseball diamond with Team Manitoba.

“A toss up,” Geekie said when asked who was superior between the chalk lines. “I was definitely a better hitter. He was better at pitching.

“I threw hard. I just didn’t really know where it was going.”

Mateychuk agreed with the assessment.

“I threw from the left side,” he said. “I had the big hook. Gave me a little edge.”

Geekie, a six-foot-four, 197-pound centre, had a little edge at the 2022 NHL draft, going 11th overall to the Arizona Coyotes. Mateychuk, a five-foot-11, 191-pound defenceman, went next at No. 12 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“Makes for good TV,” Canada head coach Alan Letang said of their intertwined paths. “They’re close and I think it pulls more guys into our room.”

The 19-year-olds are not only projected to make the team, but should be key components in the country’s quest for a third consecutive gold medal.

“Mateychuk’s a man right now,” said Peter Anholt, who is leading Canada’s management group. “Plays so much, plays smart. He’s learned to play within the system, but uses his talent to help his team.

“His game has matured so much over the last couple of years.”

This season especially. The blueliner was shot out of a cannon with a 23-game point streak to start 2023-24 with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

“Definitely impressive,” Geekie said. “He hasn’t been in my ear too much about it, but he’s an incredible player.”

Named after famed pitcher Denton (Cy) Young, Mateychuk credited rookie and training camps with Columbus for his recent development, including the honing of instincts in different situations.

“You learn as you go what you need to do to get to that next level,” said Mateychuk, who has six goals and 35 points in 24 games for Moose Jaw. “Biggest thing is controlling when you’re up the ice joining the rush and when you’re sitting back.”

A skilled forward, Geekie grew into his big frame in recent years, to go along with some snarl, in the WHL for the Wenatchee Wild after the franchise moved from Winnipeg to Washington state in June.

“Pretty lanky when I was coming into the league – kind of a klutz, to be honest – it wasn’t nice,” said Geekie, who has 20 goals and 49 points in 26 games this season. “I’m playing hard now and protecting the puck using my body. I’ve found that other half of my game where I can play with a chip on my shoulder.”

Having two older siblings will do that.

“The third-child gene’s coming out a little more,” said Geekie, who’s brother Morgan plays for the Boston Bruins. “Being extra competitive and trying to bring that every single night.

“Make someone feel my presence on the ice.”

Geekie did that this week at selection camp after losing the puck during a 3-on-3 session.

“Gets mad and just bullies two guys and gets it back,” Letang said. “He’s got to be a horse for us. He’s got to be that guy. I love his confidence. He’s got some swagger in our dressing room. We need that.”

“Pure talent,” Anholt added. “On any given night or any given play he can be a difference-maker.”

Geekie and Mateychuk – opponents, teammates, buddies – have known each other a long time.

“Frenemies is one way to put it,” Geekie said looking back. “But I think for the most part we just wanted each other to have success.

“It’s been a lot of fun growing up together.”

The next chapter could see them etch their names side-by-side into Canadian world junior lore.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2023.


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