January 20, 2012 9:00 AM
Getting traded is never what one might call convenient, but it doesn’t get much more inconvenient than what Jon Matsumoto experienced in the last few days.
Upon landing in Seattle and completing the second leg of a 13-hour trip to Abbotsford, British Columbia – easily the longest possible trip the Checkers could take this season – Matsumoto checked his phone to see two messages waiting for him. One was from his agent and one was from the Florida Panthers, informing him that he had been traded in exchange for Evgenii Dadonov and A.J. Jenks.
“I was kind of in shock for a second,” recalled Matsumoto. “Once I started telling the guys, they all started checking their phones too.”
Matsumoto didn’t have much time to say goodbyes to his teammates and coaches, as they hopped on the two-and-a-half-hour bus ride across the border while he grabbed his gear and checked in to a hotel in Seattle, awaiting the next available flight to join his new club, the San Antonio Rampage.
As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, that flight didn’t happen. Record-setting snowfall in Seattle canceled his first booking and delayed his second, leaving him stranded and simply hoping to make it to his new home by midnight. With him were only enough belongings to last through the weekend, with his scheduled appearance at the upcoming AHL All-Star Classic, a weekend that would otherwise be free, giving him no clear chance to return to Charlotte and settle his affairs.
“It’s a pretty crazy time for me right now,” he said.
A few days’ chaos aside, Matsumoto is hoping that his move will bring new opportunity. Despite leading the Checkers in scoring with 32 points (13g, 19a) in 40 games, he never got the call to Raleigh to build on his 13-game NHL debut last season. Instead, those games went to Riley Nash and Brett Sutter, who emerged as the centers of choice for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Matsumoto said that he had just talked to Hurricanes Assistant Coach Rod Brind’Amour in person following the teams’ most recent home game on Tuesday, where Brind’Amour told him to keep working and that his chance would eventually come. In a way it has, although not how he imagined at that moment.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity with the Rampage and Florida,” said Matsumoto, who said that he had positive conversations with Panthers management following the trade. “It’s a fresh start and a chance for me to write a new chapter in my book here.”
Matsumoto is expected to debut with San Antonio when the team visits Houston on Friday night. Other than knowing fellow Rampage center Mark Cullen, the younger brother of former Hurricane Matt Cullen who Matsumoto played with briefly on the 2006-07 Philadelphia Phantoms, he said that he’s “kind of going in blind.”
He’ll have the rest of the campaign to adapt and hopefully make an impression with the Panthers organization, as his contract is up at the end of the season. That makes his future at least somewhat uncertain, right at a time when he at last felt like he was starting to get settled.
“It was kind of funny,” he said. “Just the other day I was talking to my fiancé and saying how Charlotte feels like home.”
Though it’s not anymore, he’ll at least have some fond memories.
“The fans in Charlotte were always great, and I got to play my first NHL game in a Carolina Hurricanes sweater,” he said. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”