Heart and Sholl: Mattias Sholl’s path to Bemidji State forged by formative years, pro influences
A king’s journey is often filled with an odyssey of self-discovery prior to taking the throne. Fittingly, it was with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings that a young Mattias Sholl figured out that he wanted to be a goaltender – but not before exploring other options first.
Editor’s note: This story is part two on Bemidji State men’s hockey goalie Mattias Sholl. Part one appeared online April 8.
BEMIDJI — A king’s journey is often filled with an odyssey of self-discovery prior to taking the throne. Fittingly, it was with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings that a young Mattias Sholl figured out that he wanted to be a goaltender – but not before exploring other options first.
“I actually popped around from playing out, like a (skater), and goalie,” Sholl said. “I (flip-)flopped probably four times. Switching through, I didn't really know what I wanted to be yet. At a young age, you're kind of just having fun. But I played Jr. Kings my entire life. I eventually stuck with goalie, obviously.”
Even after deciding to stick with the crease, Sholl kept his skating skills sharp.
“I played a little bit of player in a rec league and on the side until probably my peewee year,” Sholl said. “Just kind of wanted to maintain some player skills. But I played Jr. Kings travel hockey from eight all the way to 17, because I played U18 there.”
While training at Toyota Sports Center – where his father, Brad, was the general manager – Sholl and his brother Tomas sometimes received the opportunity to face some shots from players on the Los Angeles Kings senior team – or members of the team’s prospect corps.
“In the summers, they have a lot of their prospects out there, but they don't always have goalies,” Tomas said. “We were always in town training. They were always very welcoming and very happy to have a couple goalies out there. I think we were more target practice for them. But it was really cool for us to face some higher-level competition.”
Mattias Sholl then advanced to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, where he spent two years adjusting to a higher level of play in junior hockey – and a different routine from what he had become accustomed to.
“My first two years playing in the North American Hockey League were a bit of a grind,” Sholl said. “My team traveled a lot. We were on the road at least half the year. Basically living in a hotel half the year. (It was a) gritty style of play. There’s some skilled play for sure, don't get me wrong, but it's definitely more of a hard-nosed style coming from that league.”
After two years in the NAHL, Sholl challenged himself to move to the USHL, where he faced competition similar to what he would eventually see at Bemidji State.
“My last year of juniors, playing for Youngstown in the USHL, that was something I needed to do,” Sholl said. “I could have stayed in Fairbanks, but I felt it was necessary to try and expose myself to get out of my comfort zone and have a different style of play really around me. Get exposed against some new talent, some new skill, some young skill that you don't see as much in the NAHL.
“It was definitely huge for me to make that jump. It's definitely helped me with playing now, because the shooters at this level, it's older guys. So it's heavier shots, stronger shots, more accurate. A little bit different from the USHL because it’s younger guys the majority of the time (in the USHL), but more accurate shooters, I would say. So that definitely helped prepare me for now.”
Transition to Bemidji State
When it came time to find his next step after the USHL, Sholl leaned on Tomas for advice. The former Bowling Green netminder spoke glowingly of his time in college to Mattias, and dutifully planted the seed that college hockey was an experience not to be missed.
“I was always pushing college to him the whole time,” Tomas said. “It's the best time you're ever going to have in your life, playing a Division I sport, and I always told him that. I just wanted to get it across to him that, ‘Hey, you might never play a game of pro hockey, but if you have a chance to play college hockey, you can't really pass it up.’ And I’m glad that he's kind of wrapping his arms around it and having a good experience as well.”
When Bemidji State needed another goalie thanks to Zach Driscoll’s impending departure, Mattias turned out to be the right fit for the Beavers.
“We tracked him,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “And knowing that we needed a goalie this year, we did our due diligence last year. We watched a lot of goalies. We liked his athleticism. We liked his quickness, and so we made the offer.”
When Sholl joined the Beavers, he found that his experience in the USHL had primed him for the speed and intensity he would face on a daily basis from collegiate competition.
“Honestly, I didn't notice a major change from last year to this year in terms of the speed of play,” Sholl said. “That was a big reason why I made that jump to go where I did last year, to get a higher level of speed and more skill and see another style of play.”
Another key to Sholl’s quick adjustment to Bemidji State was Serratore’s confidence in him as a player – which Sholl’s father, a former goalie himself, noted makes an outsized difference for a netminder.
“It's so important to have a coach like Tom,” Brad said. “When the coach believes in you and has confidence in you, it just makes you play so much better. Goaltending is such a mental game anyway. So when you know that the guy on the bench is supporting you and giving you the chance again, it plays a big part in how you play.”
Though always willing to offer their support from afar, Brad and Tomas offer advice to Mattias judiciously, especially after a difficult game – when Mattias goes radio silent.
“He doesn't get shaken or rattled, at least externally. But if he feels like he had a bad game or they lose, we don't hear from him for two days,” Brad laughed. “We know we're not getting a text after a tough loss or game. We give him his 48-hour cooldown period, and we'll finally chat.”
Aside from self-imposed two-day family communication bans, Mattias has made other efforts to find his own way as a goalie – while also understanding that his fellow family netminders are there for him, should he need their counsel.
“At this point, most things have been said,” Mattias said. “At this age, I’m 21 years old now, I think I got to figure out some more things on my own. Realistically, it's more where I would reach out to them – if I needed help or some guidance on something, then I'll do that. But throughout my life, they've given me so much advice. So if anything difficult is going on, I can just play that through my head again, remember what they said and just go from there.”
“We have different styles of play,” Tomas said. “We have very different mental approaches to the game, so I don't try to be overbearing with him. I know that I've had some experiences that could be of help now, but I like to let him come to me if he has a question. Because he’s mature enough where if he needed some advice, he would ask.”
Mattias has ambitions to play professional hockey past college, much like Tomas has done for the past five years. Tomas has set the standard and showcased the path for Mattias to take – and Mattias is grateful for the example.
“He kind of paved the way more realistically for me, because his path is essentially what I went through, borderline the same thing,” Mattias said. “So I just see his work ethic and his motivation for what he does. … I don't know where my play level will take me, but I always knew in my mind that I wanted to go for hockey at a higher level and try and pursue that as much as I can.”
Tomas has his own question to answer about if he still wants to play professionally – and for now, it’s a definitive yes.
“As the time goes on, it's a little harder to plan further out,” Tomas said. “Kind of taking it year by year right now and just making sure I still enjoy playing every year – to have that passion to push myself to get better in the offseason. And I still feel that way, so I’m ready to keep going.”
Tomas set a new bar for hockey achievement in the Sholl family, reaching the ECHL and AHL before moving to Italy to join the ICEHL in 2021. Mattias has a few years left in college before making a professional leap, but when he does, Tomas hopes he too raises the standard to a new level.
“I would look at my dad the same way Mattias looked at me,” Tomas said. “Somebody who's done a lot of the steps that you want to do. And then my goal is always to take it a step further and play a little higher level than (Brad) did. And I'm hoping Mattias has the same goal. I hope he's able to outplay me and go to a higher level.”
Brad, meanwhile, is happy that though his two sons participate in the competitive arena of high-level sports – now a continent away from each other – they have managed to maintain their bonds as brothers and goalies.
“They're very, very, very supportive of each other,” Brad said. “Whenever one of them gets any accolades, whether it's a newspaper article or an interview, whatever it is, the other one is just beaming, so proud. And the texts that we see back and forth are the same thing, ‘Great job,’ always encouraging each other. Besides the brotherly bond, there's always a goalie bond amongst goalies, regardless. Even some of their friends who are goalies, they want to see each other succeed and do well.”