2022 olym mat robinson 960

Undrafted to Olympian

Mat Robinson may not have taken a traditional route in his hockey career, but the defenceman carved himself a path overseas that led him to a pair of trips to the Olympic Winter Games

Shannon Coulter
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February 13, 2022
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Four years ago was a moment Mat Robinson will never forget.

As his wife, daughter, family and friends cheered him on in the stands, he captured an Olympic bronze medal with Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang.

With nine years of professional hockey under his belt, you may have expected the then-31-year-old to make a career decision after the Olympics. But Robinson had no plans of slowing down.

“I still felt like I had quite a bit of hockey left in me,” he says. “I was playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL, and I was on a very, very good team. For me, I just wanted to keep playing there and enjoy my time there.”

Robinson was motivated by the opportunity to win a championship with his team—a goal he achieved in 2019 when CSKA Moscow won the Gagarin Cup—although the chance to represent his country again at the Olympics provided him with an additional boost to keep playing hockey.

“It definitely was in the back of my mind, I’m not going to lie,” the defenceman says. “I always knew that this chance could possibly be there. You never know where you’re going to be four years after an Olympics. I knew I just had to take it one day, one season at a time and keep playing at the level that would be leaving me in a position to actually make this team.”

Becoming a two-time Olympian is something Robinson never could have imagined. The Calgary, Alta., native was not drafted into the Western Hockey League nor the National Hockey League.

He played four seasons with the University of Alaska Anchorage, serving as captain in his final season. After completing his degree, Robinson played a handful games with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL and split the 2009-10 season between the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators and the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals.

“I didn’t have a great start to my career,” he says. “I just kind of felt like there was nothing there for me. I didn’t want to be classified as an [ECHL] kind of hockey player, and I felt like that’s what was going to happen.”

After one season in North America, Robinson looked overseas to continue his dream of playing professional hockey.

“I just felt the European game may be more for me,” he says. “At the end of the day, at that point in my career, it’s more just thinking, ‘OK, well maybe I can go play a couple of years over there and see how it goes.’ If not, I get to live in a foreign country, live on the other side of the world.”

Robinson signed in Norway with Sparta Sarpsborg for one season, then moved to the Swedish Hockey League and spent two seasons with Timrå IK. After three years overseas on good teams, he achieved his goal of playing in the KHL by signing with Dinamo Riga.

“I played my first year in the KHL and I didn’t really know what to expect. I got on a good team with great teammates that kind of showed me the ropes and showed me what it was all about. That’s when it just started clicking.”

After signing with Dynamo Moscow for the 2014-15 season, Robinson found a new level of confidence within his game.

“My first year playing actually in Russia, that’s when I was like, ‘I can do this, I can be one of the best players in this league,’” he says. “And I just tried to run with it.”

Since his first year in Norway, Robinson has played for six teams in three leagues in four countries over 12 seasons. Throughout his entire journey, he’s had his biggest supporters with him every step of the way: his parents Trevor and Cindy.

“They did everything for my hockey career, they’re my biggest fans,” he says. “My dad coaching me as a young kid and showing me everything—he still to this day is giving me tips on what to do.

“I owe them everything. They’ve made the biggest sacrifice to get me to where I am.”

Robinson’s hockey career has also opened his parents to new life experiences and memories.

“Our son has planned some of the best holidays to his hockey adventures for us,” Trevor says. “He played in Norway; we were there. He played in Sweden; we were there. Latvia, we were there. We’ve been to Moscow, places I would have never gone had it not been for his journey.”

“We’ve travelled to so many different places to be with him and share his experience in that country that he’s at, at that time,” Cindy adds. “To see him progress and reach to the top limit that he’s at, it’s phenomenal.”

Although they may be an ocean apart most of the time, Robinson has always stayed connected to his family back home in Canada.

“It’s amazing what we can do now considering when he first went to Alaska,” Cindy says. “When he was going to college, it was so hard to keep connected, but now it’s so easy and it’s so good. It’s like he’s here at home but he’s not.”

One of Trevor and Cindy’s favourite memories from Robinson’s hockey career was being able to cheer him on in person as he won bronze in PyeongChang. Although they won’t be in-person to support him this time in Beijing, the family is ready to cheer him on back at home.

“To have a chance to go back again, as Mat said himself, he has a chance to get that gold,” Trevor says. “We’re so proud of him. To see where he’s gone through his ventures and to be a two-time Olympian is amazing to us. [We’re] hoping he gets the opportunity to do something great on the ice and bring home a gold for Canada.”

Looking back, Robinson never could have imagined he’d be in Beijing today for his second opportunity to represent his country at the Olympics.

“It’s another dream come true for me,” he says. “Not in a million years would I have ever expected to play 13 seasons of professional hockey, and now to be a two-time Olympian is just complete icing on the cake for me.”

He might not have taken what many consider to be a traditional route in the game, but his goal is to inspire other young players going through the same thing to never give up on their dreams.

“I’ve had guys reach out to me and say they’ve looked at my career path and want to do the same thing. It’s nice to see that I’m able to help out other guys that have maybe not had all the accolades of going straight to the NHL.”

As for his future in hockey after Beijing, Robinson still has the door wide open to opportunities.

“Even though I’m 35 now, I still feel like I got a lot of hockey in me,” he says. “I’m more than excited to be here and I’m glad that everything worked out for me.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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