Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Muskegon's DeBlouw has faith

By Christopher Heimerman
Lumberjacks staff

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1.

During his rookie season in the United States Hockey League, Matt DeBlouw rode a veritable roller coaster of emotion because of an unfortunate injury, but was sustained by faith.

Entering his sophomore campaign, the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ electrifying forward has a much more serene outlook.

“I’m in a relaxed state right now,” DeBlouw says, “now that I’ve got a year under my belt.”

And what a year it was.

DeBlouw missed the bulk of the 2010-11 regular season with a lacerated spleen, an injury he suffered while delivering a clean, bone-rattling body check during the third game of the Jacks’ season Oct. 9 against Team USA in Ann Arbor. About six months later, the Chesterfield native broke out with a team-high eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) and +6 plus/minus rating over six games during the Jacks’ inspired Clark Cup playoff run.

“The most important thing coming back is trying to click with your teammates again,” says DeBlouw, a product of Belle Tire Youth Hockey whom the Jacks selected in the second round of the 2010 USHL Entry Draft. “It showed during the playoffs. It took time, but we all started clicking again. It felt so great after being frustrated when I tried to click again after I came back from the injury. I hadn’t skated with my teammates for three months.”

‘I surrender’

DeBlouw missed those three months after only getting to cut his teeth on two full USHL games before his tough-luck injury. But he refused to let his confidence wane, thanks to his relentless support system and, perhaps most importantly, his unshakable faith. He was hospitalized for six days, during which his family and girlfriend, Holly, kept him constant company.

“They were there every day, and I couldn’t have done it without them,” DeBlouw says. “My family’s always been there for me.”

DeBlouw admits that he needed to “surrender,” and trust that God would help him overcome the injury.

“Faith helped me push through and has gotten me to where I am,” DeBlouw says. “I could’ve been depressed and down in the dumps. I just reminded myself, ‘I know I can’t play tomorrow or the next day, but I know God will help me get back in a couple months.’ I just had to surrender and have faith.”

Coach provides consolation

At the forefront of his support was Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick. When a doctor told DeBlouw he might not play hockey again last season, Patrick told his player to keep his spirits high.

“He just told me to take it day by day, to eat right, stay healthy and stay safe,” DeBlouw says.

When DeBlouw was cleared to return for the Jan. 14 game against Youngstown, he showed no effects of missing time in terms of his intensity. While his stride wasn’t quite as powerful as it was coming out of training camp, he fearlessly played his way and the Jacks’ way – fast and physical.

“That’s all because of Coach Patrick and playing on a fast and physical team,” DeBlouw said. “He told me it was a freak accident and that I need to keep playing the way that I play. If I didn’t, there was no sense being out there.”

DeBlouw admits feeling frustrated that his effort wasn’t consistently translating in the points column. Before breaking out at the most important time – the postseason – he registered six points on two goals and four assists in the final 30 games of the regular season.

“Coach Patrick just kept telling me to take it day by day,” DeBlouw says. “Suddenly, in the playoffs we clicked. (Matt) Berry, (Ryan) Misiak and I started clicking. And (Travis) Belohrad and I started clicking toward the end. It felt great that coach used me to help other lines get going. We needed a whole team effort and that’s exactly what we delivered.”

That was then, this is now

DeBlouw can’t wait for Friday night, the first exhibition game against the Indiana Ice at Western Michigan University. But he’s certainly made exceptional use of his summer leading up to the preamble to the 2011-12 USHL season.

While not enjoying a couple of trips to Mackinaw City, he’s been bulking up –thanks to the rigorous program put together by Jacks assistant coach and certified strength trainer Dave Noel-Bernier. DeBlouw is boasting another 10 pounds and now checks in at 6 feet tall and 175 pounds. Given his postseason explosion and dedication during the offseason, he’ll undoubtedly be a must-see player this season.

But the first thing you notice when you bump into him isn’t the new bulk. It’s his infectious, ear-to-ear smile.

“I just feel at peace coming into this season,” DeBlouw says. “Our team is gelling so well. We’ve got vets who know what they’re doing, and the incoming group is a great one. They’re working hard and fitting in. I’m excited for the newcomers to look to me for help, and I’m ready to have some fun this season.”

- Christopher Heimerman is the broadcaster and communications director for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He can be reached here.

Photo by Dave Reginek

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