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Coyotes prospect Miko Matikka on display this weekend when No. 2 Denver faces ASU

Craig Morgan Avatar
November 10, 2023
Coyotes prospect and Denver forward Miko Matikka will face Arizona State this weekend at Mullett Arena.

Miko Matikka will have a small army watching his games when his second-ranked University of Denver Pioneers visit ASU for a two-game series with the Sun Devils on Friday and Saturday at Mullett Arena.

None of Matikka’s minion will be in attendance, however.

“It’s probably going to be all of my friends and family gathering at our house and having a little watch party,” said Matikka, who is from Helsinki, which is nine hours later than Arizona. “If I play well they’re gonna be happy. If I don’t, it’s gonna be like, ‘Damn, you guys. Why did you make us all stay awake to watch these games?’ It brings a little extra incentive every time.”

The size of the crowd at his parents’ house depends on the quality of the opponent. This weekend should be a good crowd because Matikka is visiting the city whose NHL team owns his rights. The Coyotes selected the 6-feet-4, 200 pound forward in the third round (No. 67) of the 2022 NHL Draft.

“If it’s a good game, it’s probably going to be about 10 to 15 people, but it’s got to be a quiet party,” Matikka said. “The neighbors don’t want to be woken up at 5 a.m. just because I scored a goal.” 

Through the first six games of the season, Matikka hadn’t given his family and friends a reason to shout, but he got on the scoresheet twice against arch-rival Colorado College last weekend, notching his first assist on Tristan Broz’s game-winning goal on Nov. 3, and scoring the game-winning goal the next night.

“I was looking at the numbers. I’m guilty of that as well,” Matikka said of his drought to open the season. “I just kept my head down and kept working on it and it started to pay off. I’m glad to have the monkey off my back and have a couple points. Scoring my first goal was huge for myself and for the team as well. It was pretty special to score them against CC.”

Collegiate hockey has been an adjustment for Matikka, who played his first season of North American hockey last year in the USHL, split between the Madison Capitols and the Waterloo Black Hawks.

He had 27 goals and 55 points in 58 games after coming over from Jokerit’s U20 team in the Finnish junior league (SM-sarja).

“Playing in the USHL, he could use his shot and use his size to his advantage,” said Coyotes director of player development Lee Stempniak, who watched Matikka play live when the Pioneers beat now top-ranked Boston College on Oct. 21 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, 4-3. “Now he’s learning he’s got to move his feet and play with a little more pace, both with the puck to beat pressure, and then without the puck to be more effective on the forecheck.

“At times last year in the USHL, he was able to get away with just trading chances off the rush. That’s not really sustainable as you move up to college hockey, and especially to the NHL. You need to find ways to generate offense off of offensive zone possessions and I think he’s learning that and doing a better job with that.”

Miko Matikka spent time with the USHL’s Madison Capitols (Photo courtesy of Rosenau Photography).

Denver coach David Carle has taken a patient approach with Matikka as he adjusts to the rigors of college life and a step up in play.

“No one was hitting the panic button,” Carle said. “It’s just about working through it and continuing to attack practice and your craft and your game. At the end of the day, I think adversity in production is a good thing for long-term development. 

“He’s got to continue to fight his way through it and also be able to add value when he’s not scoring. I don’t care where you play, you have to have a B-game that you can fall back on when the puck isn’t going in the net so that the coach can feel good about putting you on the ice and understand that you’re gonna add value.”

Matikka is making strides in that area.

“Away from the puck, I think he’s getting better,” Carle said. “When he moves his feet, it allows him to play faster and engage physically. He’s not afraid to bump people and get in people’s way on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. Those are all good signs, but I think he’s just scratching the surface of those areas. And as he continues to gain confidence and improve, he’s going to create more turnovers, which is going to create more offensive opportunities for himself and for whoever is on the ice.”

Miko Matikka notched his first goal and assist of the season last weekend against Colorado College. (Getty Images)

Both the Coyotes and Matikka agree that he is in a great place to work on all of those aspects of his game. Denver is a perennial power. The Pioneers won the national championship in 2022 and have been to the NCAA Tournament 14 of the past 15 seasons in which a tournament was held.

Carle has been with the program almost exclusively since 2008, taking a two-year hiatus to serve as an assistant coach for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers from 2012-14 (Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz was on his team). He also coached the United States last season at the World Junior Championship where the Americans took home the bronze medal.

Denver has a long history of recruiting connections in the Scandinavian countries including Florida Panthers 2016 first-round pick (No. 23) Henrik Borgström, whom Matikka spoke to before choosing Denver. Although Matikka didn’t have the opportunity to visit Denver before committing due to COVID-19, he was convinced it was the right place to hone his game with the NHL in his crosshairs.

“I knew it was gonna be a lot faster, a lot tougher with a lot less space and time and the game style here is a little bit more specific than it was in juniors,” Matikka said. “The style we play here is a little different so it’s definitely an adjustment, but I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job getting used to it so I’ll just keep growing as a player.”

Matikka has attended the past two Coyotes development camps so this series at ASU carries extra meaning.

“It’s been on my mind since I came here,” he said. “It’s a place that I know pretty well so it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be nice to play at the home rink. It’s gonna be a special weekend and I’m just going to try to make the most out of it.”

As for when Matikka might don the jersey of the other team that plays at Mullett, he’s taking the same patient approach as the team that drafted him and the coach who is helping him get there.

“Of course I want to get to the next level as soon as I can,” he said. “But when I do make the jump, I want to be ready. It’s something that you always keep in mind, but I feel like the team comes first. I want to win a championship here so I’ve not thought about the timeline that much.”

No. 2 Denver at No. 16 Arizona State

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Top photo via Getty Images: Miko Matikka skates against Providence during a game at Schneider Arena on Oct. 20 in Providence, Rhode Island.

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