Wild's Kassian meshes bright mind, big fists

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2011 - 9:01 AM

The son of a chaplain and an award-winning author, Matt Kassian makes his living by fighting. But there's much more to the Wild enforcer.

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Matt Kassian made an immediate impact with two fights Thursday. β€œHe’s a guy who sticks up for the team and protects his teammates,’’ said his mother, Mary Kassian.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Somebody snitched, but a good reporter never reveals his source.

On Aug. 3, Matt Kassian co-hosted the "Jason Gregor Show" on the Team 1260 in Kassian's hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. Somebody -- and Gregor wouldn't confess who, despite Kassian's effort -- leaked to the talk show host that the brawling hockey player was an actor in high school.

In fact, the up-and-down Wild bruiser performed in "The Sound of Music."

You know what happened next. On the air, Gregor dropped his little nugget of knowledge, then asked a horrified Kassian to sing a song from the classic musical.

So after prodding by Gregor and some "freaking out," Kassian sang a snippet of his grandmother's favorite song, "Edelweiss."

"I'm trying to bury this," Kassian said of the evidence floating around the Internet.

The ironic thing is Kassian couldn't care less that smack-talking opponents who want to goad him into fights will now know he might have aspired to a career on Broadway.

"Who cares about them?" the always-affable Kassian laughed. "It's my friends and family that I never hear the end of it from. I mean, it was Grade 10 that I was in the show, and literally you cannot go more than 15 minutes with my family without somebody bringing it up."

More than a brawler

Kassian, 25, has played for Houston in the American Hockey League most of the season. Called up this week, he made his presence felt and ignited a raucous crowd by pummeling the Oilers' Darcy Hordichuk twice in Thursday's 4-3 Wild victory.

But this is not your garden-variety enforcer.

• He cooks, and not just scrambled eggs. He took part in an Iron Chef-like competition at a Houston grocery store once, making a spicy crab and crawfish chowder, then a chicken dish with a white wine, basil and sun-dried tomato sauce with goat cheese.

• He's working toward a business degree. During the season, he takes online classes. During the summers, he attends college in Alberta. He has the equivalent of two years of college in the books.

• He dabbles in rap -- his super-secret rap name being "Matty Cakes" -- and has inspired a single by Canadian rappers and buddies Mikey Maybe and Mitchmatic, called "Served Cold.'' Kassian began at age 13 when he and his closest friends took over the nursery of his old church with a soundboard and a computer. "We all wore Quad XL T-shirts," Kassian said.

• He has become a must-follow on Twitter (@kassassination) where his personality shines. He muses about everyday things, thoughts and sights, constantly reviewing movies and songs and conversing with fans. He began the hockey-fan Twitter craze called "shinslist" -- a list of people "who need a hard kick in the shins."

"Lady Gaga, Casey Anthony, dolphins (the animals), and Colton Gillies are all on it," Kassian wrote in his first "shinslist" Twitter entry July 6.

After being named first star of the game Thursday night, he tweeted "2:12 TOI [time on ice] 20 pim [penalties in minutes] and somehow managed a 1st star ... basically I keep it classy. Can anyone verify if this is breaks some sort of awful record?"

A long road traveled

It has been more than six years since the Wild selected Kassian in the second round in the 2005 draft. After years of being a good soldier and popular teammate in Houston, Kassian finally worked his way to the NHL last season, playing in four games and fighting Columbus' Jared Boll and Philadelphia's Jody Shelley.

This season, Kassian made the Wild out of training camp, though he played only two of the first 11 games before eventually being Houston-bound. There has been a clamoring by many Wild fans to get him back, and after the brute force he showed Thursday to be named the game's first star, that surely won't dissipate.

But Kassian is not complaining, and his parents couldn't be prouder.

His father, Brent, is the longtime chaplain of the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos and directs a sports medicine facility. Matt's mother, Mary, is an award-winning author and speaker catering to women, having written and produced more than a dozen books, including "Girls Gone Wise," and videos, including "The Feminist Mistake."

"It has been a journey, and I can't say it's always been an easy journey for Matt," Mary Kassian said. "As a parent, it's tough watching your kids struggle to meet their dreams and their goals, and especially a goal that's not guaranteed.

"Matt had a lot of potential to do a lot of different things. He's really a bright, bright kid. Academically it was a real tough choice for us to let him go play hockey because he has a lot of academic promise. So to put the years into playing a game that may or may not see his dreams realized, there was such a cost."

Kassian especially looks up to his brothers.

Clark, 27, is in his articling year at a Calgary law firm and a year from taking the bar. And his 22-year-old brother, Jonathan, plays volleyball for King's University and for the Canadian National Beach Volleyball team for the deaf.

"The only thing I remember is getting dropped off at my grandparents house as a kid and my mom coming back crying after getting the tests results back that [Jonathan] couldn't hear," Kassian said. "He had his hearing and all of a sudden, it was gone.

"If you met him, and he was wearing a toque, you'd have no idea he was deaf. He wears hearing aids, and after many, many years working with a speech therapist, he sounds completely normal. He doesn't sound like he has a hearing impediment, and trust me, he talks way too much as it is."

Family tradition

Kassian, who comes from a line of hockey players -- his grandfather, uncle and great uncle all played professionally and internationally -- comes from a spiritual, religious family. But in his mind, there's no contradiction in his chosen vocation.

"It's not like I take the fighting off the ice with me," said Kassian, who had 65 fights in junior hockey and 77 in the minors and has five in the NHL.

But his dad, a man of God, does a good job justifying his son's job. First, fighting is a part of hockey and allowed under the rules. Second, Brent Kassian said, "If you want to look through a spiritual lens, King Solomon back in Ecclesiastes Chapter 9, Verse 10 said, 'Whatever you put your hands to, do it with all your might.'"

"In Matt's case, that could be literal, as well as figurative," Brent Kassian said with a chuckle. "He does it within the rules and with a sense of sportsmanship and fair play. He does it cleanly and honestly. That's his role in order to get a paycheck and play. He plays within his means and within his scope of the skill set he's got."

In parts of five season for Houston, Kassian has scored nine goals.

"The goal-scoring side of Matthew, that's his dad. Any of the other stuff is his mother," Brent Kassian quipped.

As Mary Kassian said of her son, "He's such a great, caring guy, the kind of guy that goes into Barnes & Noble and puts my books over top of everybody else's books. I don't think enforcer is a good word for his job. He's a protector.

"He's a guy who sticks up for the team and protects his teammates. You wouldn't tell a football player not to go out and crush someone as hard as they could."

That doesn't make it easier on mum, though.

"I won't lie. It causes me nerve-racking moments," Mary Kassian said. "I'm up on my feet and my heart's pounding every time he's in a fight, but I understand the role that plays.

"He used to want to be a dentist. Now he knocks people's teeth out."

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