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Islanders In The System: Maggio Talks Growing Pains Of First Pro Season

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AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Matthew Maggio is learning what it means to be an adult.

Like many 21-year-olds, he’s living away from home for the first time, trying to figure out how to do things such as his own laundry and grocery shopping.

On top of it all, Maggio is learning how to play hockey at the professional level with the Bridgeport Islanders.

“It’s just been an adjustment to start the year,” Maggio told Hockey Now. “I do have to learn how to play in the AHL. You need to have such a focus on the defensive side of things and make sure that the coach trusts you to put you out in those scenarios and learn the new systems. It’s been a total change of systems that I’ve never played before. That’s definitely been a challenge.”

After he recorded 111 points with 54 goals as the most outstanding player in the OHL in 2022-23, there was a feverish hype around Maggio as he entered the season as one of the top prospects in the Islanders’ system.

He exuded confidence in training camp, both in his play and attitude. By all accounts, he left a good impression on the coaches.

But now, down in Bridgeport, Maggio is getting a bit of a reality check, sitting on just eight points and four goals through 21 games. He was even scratched from the lineup at one point.

“It was a wake-up call,” Maggio said. “[The coaches] thought that it’d be best if I could get a reset game and watch from upstairs. No one ever wants to get scratched, but you get to watch the game and realize how much time you have and what works and what doesn’t. It was definitely a good lesson in that you can’t take a game off, or you could be out of the lineup just like that.”

Viewing being scratched as a lesson rather than a punishment is just further evidence of Maggio’s belief in himself. But that can only take a player so far.

“There’s no question that emotion and confidence can affect your play, especially as a young player,” Bridgeport head coach Rick Kowalsky said. “You take somebody like Maggio, who is used to scoring. When they’re not, it’s a bit of an adjustment.”

“It’s understanding you’re playing against men. You’re playing against big, heavy defensemen, and there’s a little less time and space. His decision-making has to be quicker. He’s starting to get better at giving it up and using his speed to get in holes. There’s a lot more that goes into the pro game as far as structure defensively. He’s learning new stuff every day and continuing to grow that way.”

While he grows, Maggio finds solace in not being the only one struggling to score. Bridgeport, as a whole, has had a hard time generating offense this year, with many players in their first professional season.

“For everyone coming in their first year, it’s very rare that it all goes smooth,” Maggio said. “It helps talking to a lot of my friends who are the same age. Knowing that they’re having to go through the same stuff and knowing that you’re not out there alone is good.”

As the season progresses, Maggio will continue to go through growing pains and face them the only way he knows how: head-on with confidence.

“I don’t think I ever lose faith in the player that I am or what I can do with the puck,” Maggio said. “I know that once things start falling, it’s just going to get easier. I would like to have a lot more points and a lot more goals. I know that I can get there, producing every night.”

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