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Cleland takes hold of captaincy role with New Hampshire

 

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This fall, Matias Cleland will still have “UNH” on the front of his jersey, but there will be one big addition below his left shoulder.

The letter ‘C.’

Cleland, a Longmont native, will serve as team captain for the University of New Hampshire during his senior season with the Wildcats as they trudge through the always-tough Hockey East conference.

According to Cleland, a rock-solid defenseman, earning the captaincy was something he aspired for since Day 1 with the Wildcats. Back in his junior days with the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers, he was a captain.

“I was definitely hoping that it would happen, but I think it wasn’t expected – it was more something I worked after and it ended up happening,” Cleland said. “I’m definitely happy about it and I know it’s a job that requires a lot of work. It’s not just a title, that’s for sure.”

When it comes to leadership, hockey players tend to fall into one of two categories – the vocal leaders and the lead-by-example types. Cleland fashions himself as falling into both categories.
“I’d say I’m a little bit of both,” said Cleland, a finance major who turned 22 in January. “I like to be vocal, but I think the best way to show leadership is definitely by example.”

During the 2015-16 season, New Hampshire finished 11-20-6 in the regular season and was bounced in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs by Merrimack University.

Cleland isn’t apt to want to have another losing season with the Wildcats in 2016-17 and said last year certainly had positives that the team can build on for next season.

“It wasn’t our best season, obviously, and it was pretty disappointing, but I think you learn a lot through adversity,” Cleland said. “I think we have to take some points from last season and maybe change a few things, get off to a good start. I think that’s huge. I think the start of the season is always big and definitely lays the base of where the season is going.”

Last year, Cleland also earned the Rod Langway Best Defenseman Award after skating in all 37 games and contributing 28 points on five goals and 23 assists. He led the nation in blocked shots with 112.

“In my mind, I like to control things that I can control,” Cleland said. “Blocking shots is one component of the game that everyone is in control of, so any time I can get in front of a puck, that’s what I’m going to do.”

As a youth hockey standout in Colorado, Cleland played five years for the Colorado Thunderbirds AAA organization (second-year Pee Wee through 18U) and one season each with the Littleton Hawks and Boulder Hockey Club.

“Pretty much all my coaches growing up were great influences on me,” said Cleland. “Obviously, Angelo Ricci was a huge part of my development, as were Kris Kostolansky, Kent Murphy and Ron Brodeur and so many other great guys, I could go on and on.”

In 2010, Cleland played on the Thunderbirds’ 16U team that brought home the state’s first-ever USA Hockey national championship.

“Winning a national championship is something you’ll never forget,” beamed Cleland. “You look back at the roster and there are quite a few guys playing Division I hockey and even some guys playing pro. We definitely had a talented group and I’m still in contact with a lot of those guys today, some of my best friends. That season is one I know I’ll never forget.”

With school out for the summer, Cleland still has a full agenda on tap.

“I’ll still be training in the gym, working out and trying to get on the ice as much as possible,” said Cleland. “We want to hit the ground running early in the year and I think we’ll have the guys that can do that.”

Photo/Gil Talbot

— Matt Mackinder