VETERAN REGISTER FINDS IOWA THE PLACE TO TAKE THE NEXT STEPDec 19, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Matt Register had an inkling that the place for him to be this season was with the Iowa Wild organization.
“I really didn’t have another option, but I also always had a lot of respect for the organization and the people who are in it,” the Alberta native said recently. “I also liked how they didn’t beat around the bush when we talked. I’ve always appreciated that.”
Register, a 30-year-old defenseman now in his ninth season of minor league hockey, is on his second professional tryout contract with the Wild. The Wild extended the contract recently as a result of Register’s solid play in 16 games that came at a time when the Wild’s depth along the blueline thinned considerably.
Injuries to veterans Hunter Warner and Keaton Thompson plus the recent call-up of Brennan Menell put Register in the daily lineup in 13 of the Wild’s last 16 games. He has one goal and a very acceptable +1 rating out of those games.
Head Coach Tim Army said even at the start of the season, Register became a potential addition to the Wild after it became clear Carson Soucy, who had been penciled in at the start of training camp to be with Iowa, would be remaining in Minnesota, and that the club’s depth at defense would likely need some assistance.
“Matt's been an elite player at the ECHL level,” Army said. “He's played on a number of championship teams and in a number of finals. So when you do that, you’ve got a poise to your game and that shows situations don't overwhelm you.”
In fact, Register, a three-time ECHL Defenseman of the Year recipient, played in the championship round for the ECHL’s Kelly Cup four consecutive times with his teams – the Allen Americans in 2016, the Colorado Eagles in 2017 and 2018, winning the trophy in both those seasons, and Toledo Walleyes, who were runners-up last season.
In 2017, Register was named the ECHL playoff’s Most Valuable Player when his eight goals and 16 assists in 20 games helped lead the Eagles to a 4-0 sweep of the South Caroline Stingrays, becoming the first defenseman in the league’s history to win the award.
Those awards came after a long road of disappointment – something that Register has learned to deal with as an undrafted player whom some told couldn’t cut it in professional hockey.
But Army and other Wild staff members see Register as an AHL rookie wanting to get better and willing to work on it.
Register’s strongest attributes, Army said, is his size – he's 6-foot-2 and around 220 pounds – his length, and his stickhandling ability.
“He has bulk – strength and size – and a good stick,” Army said. “When he gets the puck and a little bit of time he can make a play. He gets pucks to the net from up top and can do it in a hurry.”
Where Register must improve is his skating, Army said.
“We're working on his feet, working on getting him in better condition and getting his weight down. That will help his feet,” Army said. “If we can keep improving his feet then he will be able to help us a lot.”
Register agreed, pointing out he already has lost close to 17 pounds since the season began. He also has been working with the Wild’s skating guru, Andy Ness.
“I feel a lot better on the ice -- it's night and day from where it was to now,” he said. “I am confident in my abilities to put myself in a position where I can hold my own. I’ve really taken this improvement to heart and believe it will make it a better all-around player.”
For Register, the new contract gives him additional time to try to land an AHL deal while also contributing any way he can to the Wild’s effort to repeat as a playoff qualifier.
It’s not a new story for him.
“Nothing's given to you so every day you’ve got to come to the rink trying to get better and leave the rink a better player than you were,” Register said. “Every day you got to come to the rink, you understand somebody's looking to take your job.”
At the start of the season, Register initially signed with the likelihood of playing in Allen for Head Coach Steve Martinson. Martinson was the one who approached Register during the summer about entering the Wild organization.
“Marty and my agent suggested I talk to Tim about it,” Register said. “Tim didn’t beat around the bush with me at the end of the day, and that's what I was looking for. We had a couple of good conversations and it made me feel comfortable and it was an easy decision for me to come here.”
Born in Winnipeg, Register’s family moved to Calgary when he was 14. With his size and ability, it wasn’t long before he had entered the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Bonnyville Pontiacs. In his final two seasons, he accumulated 92 points in 120 games.
After two years in college and playing on a local senior team, Register took up an offer to play in the now-defunct Central Hockey League where he began in Allen, TX. Despite a lackluster campaign, he played the following year with the Tulsa Oilers and then the Arizona Sundogs all in one season. After that, he was with Ontario, had a brief stint with the Chicago Wolves, then went from Atlanta to Allen then to Colorado.
“I bounced around a lot, but it was fun in a lot of ways,” Register said. I wasn't quite sure where I was going to fit and you know obviously when you're bouncing around a bit you're a little unsure of yourself.”
But his years with Allen and Colorado brought substantially more attention and that is what intrigued the Iowa staff.
Warner, who has been paired with Register several times when he’s been in the lineup, said his linemate now exhibits the kind of confidence a defenseman needs on the ice.
“He has a lot of confidence and he has been able to bring it to his game and adjust to the system here,” Warner said. “He’s got a great shot and now he is showing he is comfortable because he is trying to contribute on the offense.”
With all of his travels, Register said that he has found Des Moines and the Wild an organization to his liking.
“You know what it's fun here,” Register said. “It goes with the group of guys you're playing with and the staff. It’s a first-class organization and they make it fun to come to the rink every day which is awesome.”