By Tim Healey/DFP Staff
During the 2011 NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minn. last weekend, 211 young men saw a lifelong dream realized. And as far as Boston University rising-sophomore forward Matt Nieto is concerned, it was a long time coming.
“When I was really young, I made a little book for school, and it was a little hockey book with crayons,” Nieto said. “On the last page it said, ‘One day I’m going to play in the NHL,” and there was a picture of me in a NHL jersey.”
More than twelve years after making that book, he’s one big step closer: On June 25, Nieto was drafted in the second round and 47th overall by the San Jose Sharks.
Nieto prepared for those 12-plus years both on and off the ice – right through the night before his draft day. On the ice, Nieto most recently tallied 23 points (10 goals and 13 assists) in 39 games his freshman year for the Terriers.
Off the ice, Nieto has been doing everything from resting up – “The night before I tried to get a good night’s sleep knowing the next few days were going to be pretty long,” he said – to taking the time to pick out his all-important draft day suit.
“I already picked it out earlier in the summer,” Nieto said with a laugh. “I was trying to look good, so I picked out a nice shirt, nice shoes. I was trying to look a little unique, so I went with the baby blue shirt to add a little style to me.”
While the fact that he was drafted wasn’t quite surprising to even Nieto’s younger self, the team that took him was a shock.
“I had no idea they were going to take me,” Nieto said. “I met with them at the [NHL Scouting Combine], and that was about the only meeting I had with them. I was pretty surprised.”
Surprised or not, he’ll take it. The 6-foot, 180-pound Long Beach, Calif. native said he grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Kings, but he was happy to go to any of the NHL’s three California teams, likely because it means playing hockey in the Golden State for the first time since his early adolescence. Nieto chose to leave California when he was 14 years old to further his hockey career, playing his sophomore year of high school at the Salisbury School in Connecticut before joining the U.S. National Under-17 and -18 teams.
“I was happy going to any team, but just the fact that San Jose is in California makes it that much better,” Nieto said.
Nieto also kept his cool as he patiently waited for his name to be called. From Friday night into Saturday afternoon, 46 players’ names were called before Nieto’s, including childhood friend Rocco Grimaldi (33rd overall by the Florida Panthers) and BU teammate Adam Clendening (36th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks).
“I was just trying to have fun out there,” Nieto said. “I tried to keep an open mind because I know how unpredictable the draft can be, so I just tried having fun and soaking it all in.”
All the nervousness Nieto may have hidden beforehand revealed itself immediately after hearing his name called, but in a different form: pure excitement. Nieto was so eager during those first whirlwind moments after the Sharks selected him that he attempted to answer a question before the interviewee had a chance to ask one.
“It was just crazy. I remember I went downstairs to meet [the Sharks’ representatives] at the table, then I had an interview,” Nieto said, unable to recall specific details of the commotion.
In the hours after his selection, Nieto had an opportunity to catch up with Clendening, and the two reveled together in all their draft-day glory. Nieto said they were happy not only for each other, but also for the third Terrier to be drafted, rising-sophomore defenseman Garrett Noonan, who was selected by the Nashville Predators in the fourth round (112th overall).
Nieto said he plans on attending the Sharks’ rookie camp on July 11, and lucky for him he already has an idea of what to expect: his BU teammate Charlie Coyle, San Jose’s 2010 first-round draft choice, has already given him the heads up. Coyle was traded to the Minnesota Wild during the first round of this year’s draft, but went through the same experience that Nieto will in two weeks.
“[Coyle] said it’s a tough camp. It’s pretty hard, and they keep you busy with on-the-ice and off-the-ice sessions, so it sounded pretty tough,” Nieto said.
After the post-draft madness, Nieto took the chance to spend some quality time with his parents, whom he had not seen for quite some time because he stayed in Boston to take classes for the first part of the summer. Now back in California, Nieto plans on reflecting on his personal milestone and taking it easy for most of the summer before revving up again come fall.
“I think just the whole weekend in general will be something I remember,” Nieto said. “It’s something that happens once in a lifetime, the draft, so it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”