This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Matt Cherner.
SHL Digest: We’re here this week with perhaps the biggest name to be dealt at this year’s trading deadline, Matt Cherner. Matt, thanks for speaking with us.
Matt Cherner: Hello there. We meet again!
SHLD: Yes, indeed! We spoke to you last year, when you were a member of the Dakota Jackalopes. At the time, you expressed a clear desire to stay and sign an extension. A year later, you find yourself playing for another team and heading into free agency after the season. What are your thoughts on that?
MC: Well, obviously, things didn’t work out like I thought. I’d played my whole professional career with Dakota, and I wanted to stick around, even though it’s obvious that it’s going to be a rebuild there. I felt a connection to the city and the fans.
SHLD: Your love for the team and the city was obvious. When the trade went down, you broke down while you were talking to reporters about it.
MC: Yeah, that was huge for me, since I’m not a real emotional-type guy. But it hit me like I was leaving home, because that’s what Dakota was to me.
SHLD: Did you have any conversations with the team about an extension before you were dealt?
MC: Yeah. We tried to, at least. Going into [last] offseason, my agent and I thought it would be great to go ahead and get the contract done, so that we wouldn’t have it hanging over us all season. But [the Jackalopes] didn’t really engage. They’d say things like, “We really appreciate you, and we want to get something done when the time is right,” but when it came time to talk numbers and term, they wouldn’t commit.
SHLD: That must have been tough for you, given your commitment to the team.
MC: Definitely. We made it clear that I’d consider a bit of a hometown discount, but it didn’t help. We threw some numbers at them to try to get things moving, and they’d say, “We don’t know if we can do that.” We’d ask for a counter, and they wouldn’t. So that was frustrating, but at least it let me know that the writing was on the wall.
SHLD: There have been a lot of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble. Based on your negotiations, or lack thereof, do you think that’s true?
MC: I’m not going to speculate about that, because I don’t really know. They never opened their books to show me or anything. Besides, I’m focused on the future and looking forward, not back at the past.
SHLD: Fair enough! Let’s talk about your new team, then. How has your transition to the Tigres gone so far?
MC: It’s been really great. All the guys have welcomed me, and the minute I set foot in the clubhouse, it was like I’d been there for years. This is a team with a strong camaraderie and a good sense of their identity, and I feel like I’ve fit in great.
SHLD: And how has it been adjusting to life in Quebec?
MC: I like it! Obviously, the vibe there is different than it is in Rapid City, but they both have that kind of small-town feel that I like. If I’d been moving to, say, New York, it would have been a different thing. And the fans in Quebec are really passionate, at least as much as the Dakota fans. I couldn’t have asked for a much better environment for going somewhere new.
SHLD: The Tigres are hanging around the periphery of the Eastern playoff race, but they haven’t been able to break through so far. What do you think the team needs to do in order to get back to the playoffs?
MC: We’ve just got to keep playing the disciplined, heavy hockey that we’re known for. On offense, we’re doing a good job looking for quality shots. Maybe if we can open it up a bit and activate the D a little more on offense, that would be good. Mostly, I think we keep playing our game and good things will happen, especially once we get Zarko [C Drustan Zarkovich] and Fisk [LW Stellan Fisker] back.
SHLD: One last question: As we mentioned at the top of the interview, you’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. Based on what you’ve seen with the Tigres so far, could you see yourself re-signing here?
MC: Hey, who knows where life takes me, right? At the end of the season, I’ll be looking at my options and see whether they’re interested in me. But I can definitely tell you that nothing I’ve seen so far would make me not want to stay here long-term.
SHLD: Sounds good! Thanks again for your time, Matt, and good luck the rest of the season.
MC: Appreciate it. The stretch run’s going to be crazy!