(Article courtesy OJHL website)
The OJHL announced Thursday that North York Rangers forward Matthew Whittaker (photo credit – Brian Watts/OJHL Images) has been named the Gongshow Gear South-West Conference Player-of-the-Month for November after recording 7 goals and 16 points in 9 games played during the month.
Coming off line mate Gabriel Valenzuela’s Player-of-the-Month performance in October, Whittaker kept pace with his talented teammate, recording points in all nine games the Rangers played in November. The Mercyhurst University commit for 2015 tallied four multi-point games, including back-to-back three point efforts to kick-off the month with victories over Burlington and Newmarket. He would notch two game-winners, one versus Burlington and the other in a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Wellington Dukes, while also recording three points during an all-important 4-1 divisional victory over the Oakville Blades. Whittaker currently sits second in scoring on North York with career-high offensive totals of 17 goals, 31 assists and 48 points with just half the season completed.
“It’s a great honour,” said Whittaker upon hearing of the award. “It’s great to be recognized and obviously I couldn’t have gotten this without my teammates and linemates. It’s a great feeling, especially since we’re winning as team – that’s what makes awards meaningful. Playing with my linemates – Gabriel Valenzuela and Ryan Takamatsu or Zach Fung – has been huge. Without them, any success that I have had, would not have been possible. They’re such great players; all of them could have won this award.”
Whittaker continued, “This year I have a lot more confidence and belief in myself to make plays without the puck. I have more freedom to be creative in the offensive zone. Even though I had the commitment heading into the season, I have always known that I have to work to continue to get better and be the best player that I can be.”
“Sometimes, and in certain games, Matthew simply looks like he’s a man playing with boys,” said Rangers Head Coach Mark Joslin. “Obviously, he is very fortunate to be playing with a guy like Gabriel Valenzuela that makes everyone around him better. Some guys can take a situation like that for granted, but Mathew has done a fantastic job of taking advantage of that opportunity. He gets good ice time and a lot of good offensive zone opportunities, but he’s a power forward that creates time and space for himself and for others. His net front presence, his corner battles have been excellent, and he is doing everything really well offensively right now.”
Joslin continued to give his star full credit for the work he’s put in, “Sometimes guys kind of fold-up when they have their scholarships and he has done the exact opposite. He has gone from being a fourth line guy a few years ago, to being a first-line producer. He has come in and proven that he is worthy of being a power play guy, a penalty-kill guy, and also worthy of his scholarship. He has made the most of his opportunities for sure, and full credit to him for that.”
Thomas Lattavo of the Mississauga Chargers was runner-up to Whittaker as the South-West Conference Player-of-the-Month. The forward recorded 11 points in just 6 games played during November for nearly a two point-per-game average.
Born on April 14, 1995, Matthew Whittaker was raised in Toronto, Ontario and grew-up playing his minor hockey in the GTHL. He would spend his 2009-10 bantam season with the Don Mills Flyers organization and while on trip to Miami-Ohio that he decided his career-path would follow the NCAA route. The following year, Whittaker jumped to the famed Markham Waxers for the all-important minor midget season.
He would go undrafted after posting 22 points in 51 games played and returned to the Flyers in 2011-12 for his midget season. After the completion of his minor hockey career, Whittaker would attend the Blainville Boisbriand Armada’s QMJHL exhibition camp, gaining valuable experience that would serve him well during his rookie OJHL season as a 16-year old.
The youngster would record 18 points in 51 games played for the Rangers in 2012-13, helping the club achieve one of its best records in recent history, while also getting his first taste of junior post-season action. The Rangers marched all the way to the Conference Final before falling to the eventual OJHL Champion and division rival St. Michael’s Buzzers.
Last season, Whittaker doubled his goal output for North York and played a much more prominent role in the offensive attack, finishing the year with 26 points in 45 games played. With scouts beginning to take notice, Whittaker achieved his goal of an NCAA Division I commitment, assigning his future to the Mercyhurst University Lakers beginning with the 2015-16 Atlantic Hockey season, while also earning an invitation to Team Canada East’s Selection Camp for the 2013 World Junior ‘A’ Challenge.
Knowing he would now enter this season as one of the club’s undisputed leaders, Whittaker committed himself to a much more regimented off-season training program with the Rangers Athletic Therapist Jason Izraelski. The hard work this off-season has clearly paid off as he sits second on the club in scoring, while earning a spot on Team OJHL Coffey at the recent 2014 Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge that was held in Toronto.