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Auston Matthews faces the media, but the questions still remain

Toronto's elite young center is embroiled in a legal case that raises some very uncomfortable issues that are not restricted to Matthews alone. Will a learning experience come out of this ordeal?

While the on-ice portion of Toronto’s morning skate looked like any other day in the hockey world, this was certainly not the case today. Maple Leafs star center Auston Matthews faced the media for the first time since word got out that he was facing a disorderly conduct charge back in Arizona for an incident that took place in the off-season. Matthews did not take any questions, but he did make a statement.

“I regret if any of my actions put a distraction on the team or distress on any individual,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in preparing myself for the season and representing the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as I can.”

Matthews was followed by veteran center John Tavares and defenseman Morgan Rielly and both his teammates made sure to stand by the big pivot.

“We all know what a quality person and teammate Auston is,” Tavares said. “He doesn’t want to put any distress on the team or on anyone else and he has represented this team and the room extremely well ever since I’ve been around him. We’ll let that process take care of itself, but we obviously stand by him. We believe 100 percent completely in who he is as a person and a teammate.”

That’s the troubling aspect of this story: there are so many unknowns right now and many of them will likely never be revealed. Is Matthews a good guy? I’ve always had great interactions with him, but that has always been in a professional setting. And his teammates are always going to stick up for him because that’s what hockey players do.

“We understand these issues are serious and it’s not something we take lightly,” Rielly said. “That’s how he’s approaching it and as teammates, we’re going to support him.”

I wonder how aware professional hockey players are of their power off the ice – and I don’t mean fame-wise. Matthews is a big dude and, according to the allegations, was with his buddies at the time of the incident. The female security guard was alone and Matthews allegedly said it he thought it would be “funny” to see how she would respond to him and his friends trying to get into her car. Some folks would say that’s just dumb fun, but for many women in society, that’s a terrifying circumstance to be in, even if you are a security guard.

The guard believes Matthews and crew were intoxicated, which adds yet another level of uncertainty and fear to the scenario. Would Matthews have known all this at the time? Honestly, he might not - and that’s a culture problem that is pervasive in sports. Male athletes are often the big men on campus, even if they aren’t literally at a university. Even worse would be if Matthews knew that he could be frightening this woman and just didn’t care. In a twisted way, you hope for ignorance in this case because it’s better than malice.

While it is disappointing to see folks on social media blaming the victim, or to hear people in hockey media wish the whole thing to be swept under the rug, it was heartening to hear coach Mike Babcock’s reaction to the news.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “As the Toronto Maple Leafs, we really pride ourselves on doing things right on the ice and off the ice in how we treat people. It’s an unfortunate situation.”

According to Babcock, the first thing he asked Matthews this morning was if the young man was OK. But it sounds like the veteran bench boss will use the incident as a learning experience for his group, too.

“I’m here for our players,” Babcock said. “I’m here to help them become better men, better people and better players. Anything that goes bad - what you do is you take it and you (use it to) get better as an organization. We’ve got a close family inside and we’re going to look after Auston and look after our actions.”

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