Andy Murray’s opinion holds sway in the hockey world. He spent 16 years behind NHL benches, including 10 seasons as a head coach, before taking over Western Michigan’s program eight years ago.
So when he says Sabres prospect Mattias Samuelsson could play 24 minutes a game in the NHL someday, it means the Broncos have a special defenseman. “He’s just so calm and tough,” Murray said. “He sees the game so well, both defensively and offensively. He can play a lot of minutes. He plays the most minutes on our team, and we have some good players.”
As an NCAA freshman last season, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Samuelsson received the kind of ice time normally reserved for upperclassmen. “We expected him to play well,” Murray said. “I don’t know if we thought as a freshman he would be as good as he was.”
A dearth of juniors and seniors boosted his status, but there’s no question Samuelsson, who drafted 32nd overall in 2018, earned his ice time. What helped the son of former NHL
defenseman Kjell Samuelsson acclimate to the college game so quickly? He joined Western Michigan from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which plays a chunk of its schedule against NCAA opponents. “You don’t have as much time with the puck, and you have to know what you’re doing with it before you even get it, your thought process,” said Samuelsson, who had five goals and 12 points in 37 games last season.
Playing at Western Michigan also offers a Samuelsson an opportunity to play with his older brother, an experience he cherishes. Lukas Samuelsson is a junior forward. “They’re really close, you can see that,” Murray said. “They tease each other and don’t mind whacking each other in practice.”
When the siblings started looking at colleges, they decided “it would be cool” to attend the same one. “We dreamed of it,” Mattias said, “when we played street hockey in the driveway.” – Bill Hoppe