At 9:30 p.m. PT on Thursday, December 5 the Rockets dropped a bomb on the WHL trade front, announcing that they had acquired highly sought after overage captain Matthew Wedman from the Seattle Thunderbirds.
“We feel that we’ve really strengthened our hockey club with Matthew Wedman down the middle,” said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton following the trade. “We had been pursuing Wedman for six weeks, it was a long grind of negotiations and we knew it was going to cost picks. He’s going to elevate our team in leadership and scoring. He’s the captain of the Thunderbirds, he brings leadership and a big physical presence. He scored 40 goals last season, we’re looking for him to add some offence to our team and help him pursue his career to become a pro player.”
The late-night trade sparked a rush to get Wedman from Victoria, where the T-Birds were going to be playing the next night, to Saskatoon in time to join the Rockets as they kicked off their prairie road swing.
“We had just gotten to Victoria,” said Wedman about learning of the trade. “Seattle Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge called me in to let me know that I had been dealt.”
The 6’3, 209-pound forward made it in time for the Rockets game the next night against the Prince Albert Raiders. He picked up an assist on Nolan Foote’s game-winner to lift the Rockets to a 3-2 victory over the reigning WHL Champions.
Wedman has his first point in a Rocket uniform on Nolan’s 8th power-play goal of the season.
The next night Foote was awkwardly hit into the boards by Saskatoon Blade Nolan Kneen, Wedman took exception to the late hit and dropped the gloves with Kneen. In the month and a half since the deal, Wedman has been seen in numerous instances standing up for his Rockets teammates.
“That’s the way I’ve been taught to play. If someone is messing with your teammate, you’ve got to step in. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here, I’m here to stick up for them.”
When asked about his initial thoughts of being traded, Wedman didn’t mince words that he was caught off guard.
“Being with Seattle for as long as I was, it was a bit of shock, but I knew that the Rockets are hosting the Memorial Cup. At first, it brought back some memories of the last time we were at the Memorial Cup. We didn’t do so well there, so this time I’m hoping it leaves a better taste in my mouth.”
As a 16-year-old, the Thunderbirds second-round selection (No. 38) at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft cracked the roster for the 2015-2016 season. Wedman appeared in 70 regular-season games as a rookie, collecting six goals and eight assists along with 24 penalty minutes. He suited up in all 18 postseason contests, picking up another three points.
Seattle rolled through the playoffs, Wedman scored the overtime winner to knock off the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and punch their ticket to the Championship. The T-Birds fell to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the finals, but the long playoff run showed Wedman and the Seattle what they needed to do to be successful.
“Being a 16-year-old, I learned what it takes to get it done in the playoffs. Everyone needs to play a role, and I was a depth forward, so I played an energy role then. The biggest thing about playoff hockey is that the team comes together and everyone knows their roles.”
The next season Seattle marched right back to the WHL final, claiming their first WHL Championship in franchise history.
The Thunderbirds dropped all three of their games at the 2017 Memorial Cup in Windsor. The WHL Champion team has not won a game at the Memorial Cup since the 2015 Kelowna Rockets team.
The Edmonton product continued to grow in the two seasons following the cup run. Last season Wedman had a breakout campaign, setting career highs across the board. In 66 games, he collected 40 goals and 37 assists along with 110 penalty minutes.
His leadership qualities also developed, on October 1, 2019, the Thunderbirds named him their 36th captain in team history.
The Florida Panthers rewarded Wedman for his efforts last season, drafting him during the seventh round (No. 199) in June at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver.
“Being drafted was a 50/50 thing. I was on the ice that day during the draft, and I had just gotten home when I found out the news that Flordia picked me. It was a pretty exciting day for my family and me.”
With Seattle and the draft in the rearview mirror, Wedman is hoping that he can elevate the Rockets to a long playoff run and their second Memorial Cup this spring.
He’s been busy trying to learn all of the new plays and get accustomed to new linemates. It’s been a revolving door at some points as the Rockets roster has suffered numerous injuries over the last few weeks.
“Already knowing Dillon Hamaliuk, Jake Lee and Cole Schwebius made it easier for me to integrate into the team. Its was nice to have three familiar faces around that could show me the ropes.
“The coaches have made it easy, they’ve shown me video and go over it with me every day. Adam has shown me little things that I can do to work on my game. The coaching staff has really helped my transition.”
This weekend the Seattle Thunderbirds will make their first of two trips to Prospera Place this season. The Rockets had already made their two visits down to Seattle this season when the deal to bring Wedman went down, it’s expected that there will be a large contingent of T-Birds fans in the building to see their quartet of former players and say goodbye to Wedman.
“I want to thank the Seattle fans for all of the support that they’ve given me over the years. They’ve been awesome, they’ve made so many good memories for me. I’m looking forward to seeing them a couple of more times this season when they come up here for the games.”