How goalie Matt Dalton made it from Seaforth, Ont. to the South Korean men's team
Dalton is one of six Canadians playing hockey for South Korea at the Winter Olympics
There's a running joke at the arena in Seaforth, Ont.
They say there's something in the Huron County water that makes the local kids so good at skating.
It's because many of those kids who skated at this arena have gone on to do big things:
- Ryan O'Reilly, forward with the Buffalo Sabres
- Cal O'Reilly, forward in the Minnesota Wild system
- Boyd Devereaux, played for the Maple Leafs and Oilers
- Scotty Driscoll, veteran NHL linesman
- Lloyd Eisler, Olympic figure skater
"For a town of 2,000 people, there are so many people that have left here that played in the NHL, scholarships, it's crazy," said Larry Dalton, a former Seaforth minor hockey coach.
"I'm sure Ron MacLean and Don Cherry should find out about this little town."
The community's knack for churning out hockey talent means it's not so crazy that Larry Dalton's son, 31-year-old goalie Matt Dalton, is now playing for the South Korean men's Olympic team.
"He has been playing hockey since he was just a little wee boy, so you know he wanted to make it his career," said Matt's mom Karen.
"It sounds odd but it's not that surprising to us."
How'd he get here?
If you ask Matt, he isn't so sure about the "something in the water" theory.
But, he says the size of the community might have had something to do with it.
"I always felt like I had something to prove. You're always kind of an underdog, and you had something to prove when you played bigger towns," he said over the phone from South Korea.
And then there's the fact that the 31-year-old grew up just before computers, video games and the Internet started taking over. There wasn't much going on in his quiet community, but the arena was always open.
"There were just not a lot of other things to do. So I think that's what we grew up doing every day was playing hockey," said Matt.
Matt showed promise early on, his mother said.
At the tail end of his minor hockey years, he skipped the Midget league and jumped right into junior hockey, at a noticeably younger age than his teammates.
"He was the only kid on the team that wasn't old enough to drive," said Karen Dalton. "It was a big joke that his mother was taking him to his junior hockey practices because he wasn't old enough yet."
Since then, Matt's been a bit of a journeyman hockey player.
He went from playing junior to Bemidji State University, where he led the team to the Frozen Four semifinals.
From there, he played a few years with the Providence Bruins and the Reading Royals, before playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
"By that point I was kinda used to anything goes, like you never know what he's gonna tell you the next time you talk to him," said Karen.
Matt found himself at loose ends when his KHL contract ended. But at the time, South Korea — knowing it would host the 2018 Olympics — was shopping around for talent.
The timing worked out.
By that point, Matt knew that going overseas was a savvy career move.
"Obviously every kid's goal is to have a 15 year NHL career. That's what everyone wants to have but the reality of it is that there aren't many people that get to have that opportunity," he said.
"I'm lucky I've been given a great opportunity by Korea here and I really enjoy it here, enjoy my teammates, enjoy life here."
Canada vs. South Korea
Matt doesn't have any illusions about taking home the gold this year. But, he says that's not necessarily the point.
"For us I think the main thing is just to show how far Korean hockey's grown in the last four years," he said.
"We're just trying to grow the game and trying to make people in Korea more interested in the game of hockey and being at this world stage is probably one of the best opportunities for us to do it."
South Korea will face off against Canada Sunday morning, and the whole Dalton clan has flown to Pyeongchang for the match.
The only problem for his parents?
Who to cheer for.
"It's going to be a very good match. I hope that Korea does well just because they're hosting and because my son's on the team," said Karen.
"I'm hoping for a shut-out, zero-zero tie. And then go to a shoot out," said Larry, laughing.