By Bill Brophy
October is one of the best months for Katie Matheny. It has nothing to do with changing leaves or a harvest moon. It is the start of another hockey season.
"It is so exciting," said Matheny, a junior winger for Ohio State. "Practices have paid off, meshing with new teammates. A fun time."
In the Matheny household, this month is also time for October baseball. You see, Matheny's father is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Mike Matheny played 13 years in Major League Baseball as a catcher for four teams and is the only manager to ever guide his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.
"When you grow up with it, you can't help but love baseball," said Katie. "St. Louis is such a great baseball city. So even though it is hockey season for me, you have to follow the Cardinals."
The first week of the hockey season, Katie Matheny got to go to the heart of Cardinals Nation for the first series of the hockey season. Ohio State took a pair of victories from Lindenwood in Head Coach Jenny Potter's first games behind the Buckeyes' bench. Matheny invited her teammates over to her parents' house in suburban Chesterfield, Mo. for a pre-game dinner. The next day, Matheny had a goal and an assist in a 5-1, season-opening victory.
"That was a good way for our team to start the season,'' said Matheny, who skated on OSU's top line with freshman Maddy Field, who had two goals and an assist against Lindenwood, and Julianna IaFallo. "I grew up playing travel hockey in Pittsburgh so my family hadn't seen me play a lot. It was very cool to have family there."
Athletics are a big part of the Matheny family. Both of Katie's parents played collegiate sports at Michigan – Mike was a catcher in baseball, her mom Kristen was a field hockey player. She has four brothers -- Tate, who played the outfield, was the most valuable player at Missouri State and is currently a member of the Boston Red Sox minor league system; Luke, a pitcher who is a freshman at Oklahoma State; Jake, a catcher at Westminster Christian Academy who just committed to Indiana; and Blaise, a high school sophomore at Westminster Christian in Chesterfield.
"Growing up, my older brother would make me play goalie and shoot pucks at me,'' said Katie. "I was a goalie until I was about 10. Every day my brother would make me go out there and he'd just shoot on me. My older brother played both baseball and hockey in high school and then he decided to concentrate on baseball."
Katie also lettered in soccer, softball and lacrosse while attending Westminster Christian. Despite her family's baseball background, she elected to concentrate on hockey. She was a forward for the St. Louis AAA Blues before coming to Ohio State. Matheny previously played five seasons for Team Pittsburgh Hockey, helping to lead them to the 2010 14U USA Hockey Tier I National Championship. While playing for Team Pittsburgh, Matheny was the team leader in points for three straight seasons and was named MVP of the 2011 Nike Bauer tournament.
"Once you play hockey, every other sport is too slow,'' said Matheny. "It is so fast-paced. Everyone asks why I didn't play softball. I played softball through my sophomore year, but I picked hockey. My dad has always supported that decision and in whatever I wanted to do."
Along the way, Mike Matheny has also given advice to Katie's teammates when asked. Jincy Dunne is a highly-touted freshman with Ohio State and was Katie Matheny's youth hockey teammate. In an interview with ESPNW, Dunne recalled a lesson the Cardinals' manager told her after she got too upset about a bad tournament. "He was really cool about it, and he told me not to worry," she said. "He told me life is all about how you treat people. He said, 'Sports won't last forever; it's how you treat people that counts.' "
Katie Matheny knows her dad never played hockey, but she also knows he understands well about the roller coaster of emotions that go into a season.
"He's definitely been through it and even though his world is baseball, he has always been supportive of me as a hockey player. If I ever needed advice on anything in life or on hockey, I would absolutely go to him. Obviously he doesn't know every little detail, but he understands what it's like to be a college athlete and understands what it's like to be the coach of an athlete."
Mike Matheny talks to Katie often. After past Cardinals' celebrations, Mike shared the joy. "When they made playoffs, I got to face-time my dad while everyone was spraying champagne,'' said Katie. "I got to enjoy it without getting drenched."
She also chatted with her father often during the Cardinals' first round playoff series. But this year, October was a cruel month for the Redbirds. St. Louis won 100 games and had baseball's best regular season record, but were knocked out by the Chicago Cubs in their opening playoff series.
So now, it's time to focus on hockey for Katie in a transition year at Ohio State. Matheny, a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Scholar Athlete Award winner, was recruited by Nate Handrahan, but now finds herself in a leadership role as a junior for Potter, a former Olympic gold medalist and an All-American at Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth.
"She has a completely different coaching style,'' said Matheny. "We are focusing on learning new systems and she knows what works. We have to work out the kinks yet and work in new players, but it is exciting.
"She gave everyone a clean slate. You have to earn your spot. It is like starting over." The Buckeyes' fresh start included a lot of bonding time on the road. After the trip to Matheny's hometown in St. Louis, the Buckeyes opened the league season at Wisconsin, the WCHA playoff champion. Then the schedule-makers say the Buckeyes get to go home to face Minnesota, the defending national champions, this weekend, Oct. 16-17.
"The first four games will be a benchmark for us to show us where we are at,'' said Potter before watching Wisconsin sweep the Buckeyes in Madison last weekend (Oct. 10-11).
Starting with the Gophers' series, the Buckeyes have six straight home games – a perfect time to build a new identity. And Matheny, in her new role as an upperclassman and a leader, is ready to be a big part of it. After all, while October may signal the end of baseball, it means another season – hockey – is just beginning!