Q&A with Grand Rapids Griffins’ Hockey Star Matt Puempel
In his second season as a Grand Rapids Griffin, 25-year-old Matt Puempel is loving life and the team. The right wing is a fan favorite and consistently makes his way onto the leaderboard for goals scored.
You can also find Puempel getting to know the community through volunteer efforts with the Griffins. Whether it’s visiting kids at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital or helping them boost their reading skills, Puempel considers it an honor and privilege to give back. He takes being a role model seriously.
That’s why he was the perfect choice for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to partner with on a recent season ticket presentation to representatives from Arbor Circle, an organization that guides people to build the strengths, skills and support networks needed to adapt to or avoid life’s challenges.
The organization develops tools for life through more than 50 counseling, education and prevention programs. As one of West Michigan’s most comprehensive providers of mental health counseling, substance use treatment and family development programs, Arbor Circle serves more than 20,000 children, youth, adults and families every year. Read more about Arbor Circle here.
Along with staff, families who rely on Arbor Circle’s services will be able to take advantage of the season tickets for a fun night out. They might even get a chance to meet Puempel on game night. Want to know about Puempel and his philosophy on giving back and being a role model, plus insights into this year’s season? We sat down and asked him 10 questions. Here are his answers:
- How old were you when you started playing hockey and when did you know you wanted to play it professionally?
I started skating when I was three years old. When I first started, I didn’t really love being on the ice. Obviously, being from Canada everyone plays and I kind of just fell into it and started loving it at a young age and knew I wanted to play it forever. Fortunately, it worked out that I could do it for a job, although I don’t really look at it as a job, but more so as a lot of fun.
- Hockey is a grueling sport. How do you stay energized and at the top of your game the whole season?
I think that’s a tough part with becoming a pro. It’s a grueling schedule with travel and practicing and the games are obviously hard. I think it’s something you learn over the years – to take what you need and to not overdo it in certain parts of the schedule. You have to take care of your body and take the rest when you need it.
- What’s your favorite thing about being out on the ice?
I think my favorite thing is trying to generate scoring chances and generating a game plan to beat the other team. Coaching strategy is something I’ve enjoyed and being known as a more offensive player, I’ve always loved scoring goals and I think that’s the best part of the game.
- How do you handle a tough loss?
We play so many games, so you can kind of get right back into the next game and start thinking ahead of the next game as opposed to dwelling on the past. Obviously if there are reasons why you lost the game, the coach will let you know, but I think the best part of our game is that every day is a new day and with how long the season is, you just have to go day by day. It’s easier said than done but something that really helps out in the end.
- What’s your best advice to young people who want to play professional sports someday?
I think the best thing is something you learn when you’re three years old and you take it with you until you’re done playing – and that’s to have fun with it. I think it’s important to have fun and try to be as positive as you can every day. It’s easy to get negative and down about different things, but it’s a pretty good job and a good living and you play it to have fun, so you don’t want to change that mentality going forward.
- What do you do to stay physically and emotionally fit during the off-season?
Everyone kind of gets into a workout routine for the first couple months of summer and by mid-July everyone is back to skating regularly so you’re pretty conditioned by the time you go into training camp. I think just working out and enjoying your summer too – getting away from the game and getting away from the competitiveness is important for your mental state of mind too.
- What are a few of your favorite things about West Michigan?
I’ve definitely enjoyed Grand Rapids. I’d heard about it before I was traded here last year and being from just outside of Windsor and close to Detroit, it was really exciting for myself and my family. The people here have been great and there’s always something going on here in town. There’s a big medical field here with people learning and teaching at the children’s hospital. We’ve been able to visit kids there quite a bit. I think the breweries here – they call it Beer City – that’s exciting and it brings a lot of people to town. And I’ve enjoyed every part of it – it’s a really clean city and people take a lot of pride in the city and love being from here and I enjoy being here.
- Why is it important for you to give back to the communities you play in?
We’re pretty fortunate to be able to do what we do and to have people excited to have us around. While I have that opportunity, it’s important to me to give back. It can change people’s nights or even years. I think it’s easy to get caught up in life and sports but when you take a step back and realize how fortunate you are – giving back helps us realize how lucky we are and what the real struggles are in life.
- Is it important for you to be a role model for young fans?
When I was younger, I remember looking up to different players and different teams. It’s kind of funny now, when I remember them and the little things they said or did, (those interactions) can have a big impact on people’s lives. That’s something I enjoy, for sure.
- What are your predictions for the season? Is there a Calder Cup in the team’s future?
For sure. I think we actually have a pretty good team this year. I think a lot of things have to go right with injuries. We started out a little bit slower, which isn’t out of the ordinary with a new group but the last month has been really good. Every guy in there wants to play until June and I think we have a good chance to be successful, for sure.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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Main image courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins
Insert photo credit: A Healthier Michigan