Penticton, BC: The Penticton Vees are excited to announce Penticton native Matthew Byrne has joined the team for the 2018-19 season.
Byrne, a 2000-born forward, has spent the last three seasons playing next door to the South Okanagan Events Centre with the Okanagan Hockey Academy. Last year, Byrne set career highs across the board with 26 goals and 28 assists in 35 games.
He also suited up for two games with the Vees as an affiliate player, recording an assist in his first BCHL game November 17 at West Kelowna.
Byrne will wear number 28 and will join the rest of his teammates for training camp in August.
Vees play-by-play broadcaster Craig Beauchemin caught up with Matthew Byrne for this feature story.
Matthew Byrne knows all about the Penticton Vees. Born and raised in the city, Byrne has been following the team and attending games since he was a child. Considering that, the opportunity to call himself a Penticton Vee is something he can hardly contain his excitement about.
“I used to always go to games with my dad and it’s always been a good experience for me,” Byrne said, “It’s a very good opportunity for me to be able to play in my hometown. I remember going to a Fred Page Cup final game in the old Memorial Arena.”
While honing his skills to one day be able to call himself a Vee, Byrne has been attending the Okanagan Hockey Academy for the past three years, right next door to the South Okanagan Events Centre.
A set schedule that balances school work, games and both on and off ice workouts has been nothing short of a blessing, Byrne says.
“We went to school from 8-12, they’re really strict about academics so it really helps to keep me in line,” Byrne explained. “Dave Nackoney does a great job. We usually have about an hour on the ice and then any other off ice activity until around 5. It’s improved me significantly, I went into the Elite 15’s program and now am coming out of my third year of midget. It’s been an amazing experience. It’s very structured, it makes sure that we’re always on top of what we need to do.”
The improvement in his game is easily noticeable when looking at Byrnes statistics as he more than doubled his point total from 2016-17 this past season.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Byrne was quick to give thanks to others.
“I can’t take all the credit, my teammates were great people and they helped me so much throughout the season,” Byrne said. “I just gained a lot of confidence heading into the season. I felt like I could do a lot more on the ice than I had in previous years.”
During the year, Byrne was able to come to the SOEC and practice with the Vees regularly. As one might imagine, Byrne’s attention to detail during those practices was something he zero’d in on whenever called upon. He was also quick to mention how welcoming and helpful all the Vees players were whenever he jumped on the ice.
For years Byrne had envisioned himself suiting up for his hometown team one night, and that moment finally came November 3 against the West Kelowna Warriors. It was a memorable night in both the time leading up to the game, and during.
“My mom was just so happy,” Byrne said with a laugh. “It was a weird feeling, I don’t know if nervous is the right word, I was almost in shock. I had been watching this team my whole life and then I finally got to play a game for them.”
When the game started, the Vees seemed to be in cruise control right from puck drop as they skated to an 11-3 win. That kind of result isn’t one a player, or team, ever imagines when getting ready.
“It was a weird first game to get into,” Byrne admitted. “A game like that is a lot of fun. Nobody ever gives up no matter what the score is, they’re like a family so it was a pretty cool.”
The cherry on top came in the third period with the Vees on the power play. Jonny Tychonick sent a pass to Byrne who was parked at the side of the goal and the puck went off his stick and right to Ben Allen who tapped it home, giving Byrne the distinction of saying he recorded a point in his first ever BCHL game.
Byrne is well aware the hard work to become a fixture in the lineup next season is already underway, which is why he wanted to have a strong showing during the Vees Spring Camp at the end of the May. Though he says he also had motivation from another source to play well.
“Matt Fraser challenged me to score six goals during the weekend, and I ended up with seven,” Byrne stated. “I just wanted to show what I could do on the ice. I wanted to prove to the staff that I could be effective, whether it was on the offensive side of things or on defence.”
Having been into game action, Byrne is aware of the challenges that await him in becoming a full-time junior player. His training program for the summer is built around taking his game to the next level.
“I really want to focus on my speed,” he admitted. “I want to be a two-way forward that works hard. I want to make sure that I’m doing my job out on the ice.”
It should be no surprise to see a large number of Byrne fans at every Vees home game next season.