Mat Robinson may not have taken a traditional path in his hockey career, but the defenseman has carved a path overseas that has taken him to two trips to the Winter Olympics
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 won 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 might have expected the 31-year-old to make a career decision after the Olympics. But Robinson had no intention of slowing down.
“I still felt like I had a lot of hockey left in me,” he said. “I was playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL and I was in a very, very good team. For me, I just wanted to keep playing there and enjoying my time there.
Robinson was driven by the possibility of winning 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 gave him a boost. extra boost to keep playing hockey.
“It was definitely on my mind, I’m not going to lie,” said the defender. “I always knew that chance could be there. You never know where you’re going to be four years after the Olympics. I knew I just had to take it one day, one season at a time and keep playing at the level which would leave me in a position to be part of this team.
Becoming a two-time Olympian is something Robinson could never have imagined. The native of Calgary, Alta., was not drafted into the Western Hockey League or the National Hockey League.
He played four seasons with the University of Alaska at Anchorage, serving as captain in his final season. After graduating, Robinson played a few games with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL and split the 2009-10 season between the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League and the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. .
“I didn’t have a good start to my career,” he says. “I just felt like there was nothing for me. I didn’t want to be categorized as a
[ECHL] kind of hockey player, and I felt like that was going to happen.
After a season in North America, Robinson looked overseas to pursue his dream of playing professional hockey.
“I just felt maybe the European game was more for me,” he says. “At the end of the day, at this point in my career, it’s more about thinking, ‘OK, well, maybe I can go and play a few years there and see how it goes. Otherwise, I can 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 abroad in 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 was part of a good team with great teammates who kind of showed me the ropes and showed me what it was all about. That’s when it just started to click.
After signing with Dynamo Moscow for the 2014-15 season, Robinson found a new level of confidence in his game.
“My first year playing in Russia, that’s when I thought, ‘I can do this, I can be one of the best players in this league,'” he says. just tried to run with it.”
Since his first year in Norway, Robinson has played for six teams in three leagues in four countries in 12 seasons. Throughout his journey, he’s been accompanied by his biggest supporters every step of the way: his parents Trevor and Cindy.
“They did everything for my hockey career, they are my biggest supporters,” he said. “My dad coached me when I was young and showed me everything – he still gives me advice today on what to do.
“I owe them everything. They made the greatest sacrifice to get me where I am.
Robinson’s hockey career also opened his parents up to new life experiences and memories.
“Our son has planned some of the best vacations for us for his hockey adventures,” says Trevor. “He played in Norway; we were there. He played in Sweden; we were there. Latvia, we were there. We went to Moscow, places I would never have been without his trip.
“We traveled to so many different places to be with him and share his experience in this country where he is at this time,” adds Cindy. “To see him progress and reach the upper limit he is at is phenomenal.”
Although they may be separated by an ocean most of the time, Robinson has always stayed in touch with his family 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 stay connected, but now it’s so easy and it feels so good. It’s like he’s here at home, but he doesn’t. is not.
One of Trevor and Cindy’s favorite memories of Robinson’s hockey career was being able to cheer for him in person as he won bronze in PyeongChang. Although they won’t be in person to support him this time in Beijing, the family are ready to cheer him on at home.
“To have a chance to come back, as Mat said himself, he has a chance to get that gold medal,” says Trevor. “We are so proud of him. Seeing where he’s come to in his endeavors and being a two-time Olympian is amazing to us.
[We’re] hoping he will have the opportunity to do something big on the ice and bring home a gold medal for Canada.
Looking back, Robinson could never have imagined he would be in Beijing today for his second chance to represent his country at the Olympics.
“It’s another dream come true for me,” he says. “Not in a million years would I expect to play 13 seasons of professional hockey, and now being a two-time Olympian is just the icing on the cake for me.”
He may not have taken what many consider a traditional path in the game, but his goal is to inspire other young players going through the same thing to never give up on their dreams.
“Guys have reached out to me and said they’ve looked at my career path and want to do the same. It’s good to see I can help other guys who can’t. -not having had all the accolades of going straight into the NHL.
As for his hockey future after Beijing, Robinson still has the door wide open to opportunity.
“Even though I’m 35 now, I still feel like I have a lot of hockey in me,” he said. “I’m beyond excited to be here and I’m glad everything went well for me.”