If you’re going to make a run at a championship, you could do worse than having a goalie named Vernon in your crease. The North American League’s Aberdeen Wings won their first Robertson Cup with the backing of netminder Matt Vernon, the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Vernon. Matt, a Colorado College commit, was named MVP of the playoffs after posting a .926 save percentage and allowing just a single goal in the final two games.
During the regular season, Vernon led the NAHL by playing 52 of Aberdeen’s 60 games. “Matt was a horse,” said coach-GM Scott Langer. “I’ve never ran a goalie like that, he never really got a rest. Matt’s compete level is off the charts, and when he got to the playoffs, he was just a focused individual.”
Aberdeen, which is in South Dakota, had a 19-game winning streak and entered the post-season as one of the league’s top outfits. But the Robertson Cup playoff format is tricky: the first two rounds are best-of-five divisional affairs, with the four winners then coming together in Minnesota for a best-of-three semifinal, followed by a one-game championship. So having a star goalie really helps at the end. “There’s less room for error,” said Vernon, 21. “The
final is one game, so every play, every rebound counts.”
It also inverts that whole it’s-a-marathon-not-a-sprint cliché: the Wings focused their pre-scouting on semifinal opponent Amarillo before taking on Fairbanks in the final game. “Then it’s a sprint,” Langer said. “You can only give your guys so much to think about.”
For Vernon, thinking about the game has been one of the areas his famous dad could be counted on for advice. “He has been exactly what I needed,” Vernon said. “He never pushed too hard, and he let me figure things out on my own. But he also really helped me with the mental side of the game.”
Born in San Jose during the latter years of his dad’s NHL career, Vernon moved to Calgary as a child and grew up there before playing Jr. A in Saskatchewan. Part of the reason he chose Colorado College for next season is that the rising program is one of the closer schools to Calgary.
This was his second year with Aberdeen and one he’ll never forget. “We had such a tight-knit group,” he said. “Everybody hopped on board for the same goal, and everybody had the same work ethic.”