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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

Virgilio welcoming increased responsibility after trade to young IceDogs team

Brandon Caputo

Photo Credit: OHL Images/Natalie Shaver


On June 6th, 2024 the Niagara IceDogs made a bold move by trading away four future draft picks in order to acquire 18-year-old defenceman Matthew Virgilio from the Soo Greyhounds. The current resident of Aurora, by way of Vaughan, Ontario, is excited for a new opportunity with a hopefully bigger responsibility on the young IceDogs squad.

 

“I’m super excited to be a part of the IceDogs,” said Virgilio. “It’s a good young team there and I think it’s an opportunity where I can step into a bigger role and help out a team that is finding their way back. Obviously, there are some elite players there and with some good help that I can provide, this team can take the next step and keep pushing forward.”

 


Big goals, big responsibility

Photo Credit: niagaraicedogs.net


Virgilio spoke about accepting a lesser role with a formidable Soo Greyhounds club, which finished third in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference and eventually lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Memorial Cup winning Saginaw Spirit; a hard fought seven game series that went the distance. “That Greyhounds team was an elite team last year with a lot of good players,” Virgilio said.

 

“I had to step into more of a role player and play lesser minutes but I was very responsible defensively and just made simple plays. I think I was looking for a bigger opportunity for myself and a way to take the next step in my career. Niagara came to the forefront and glad I can move forward there.”

 

The 5’11, 186 lbs right shot defenceman had 15 points in 62 games last season with the Greyhounds but expects that his offensive production will take strides forward, if he’s able to earn more of an increased ice-time from the coaching staff in Niagara by working hard and building a trust.

 

“You can expect me to be a responsible 200-foot guy,” Virgilio said. “I had to really learn how to play defence the right way and be hard to play against so I think they can expect some physicality and on the other side of the puck is moving pucks quickly, getting the puck up to the forwards and being creative to get shots through to the net; hopefully potting some more pucks in as a result.”


 

A long road travelled

Photo Credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images


Virgilio has now played two seasons in the OHL but he credits building a strong bond with the teammates inside the dressing room as the biggest factor into why and how the Soo Greyhounds were able to jump from 9th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs during the 2022-23 season to a 3rd place team just a season later in 2023-24, along with a 50-point increase.

 

“It all starts in the dressing room,” Virgilio said. “The group we had there was super tight. When we came back to camp after the losing season and being out of the playoffs, you could see it in each other’s eyes and the determination. That came through into pour practices and games but I believe the IceDogs can take that big step too but it starts with all the guys and the willingness to want to do it and make that push forward.”

 

Virgilio also spoke about the grind of a travel schedule that you go through as a member of the Greyhounds, which has made his preparation for games much better and efficient as his OHL career has gone on.

 

“The travel is definitely tough,” Virgilio said. “When I first came into the league I was very surprised of how the bus trips were but also how often you’re actually getting on that bus and those long road trips. It puts a bigger emphasis on your strength, conditioning, and the stuff you’re doing in the offseason or in the gym; it’s super important and I think eventually you get more used to it but it was still tough at times.”

 


Warm welcome to a new dog house

Photo Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


Virgilio said that his excitement in coming to Niagara started the moment that the trade was announced. “As soon as I got traded I got a call from captain Gavin Bryant which was great,” Virgilio said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about him and some other teammates that I had who played with him.”

 

The newest IceDogs defenceman also spoke about the familiar faces that he looks forward to seeing once again down in Niagara, having grown up playing against a few of the current IceDogs players. “I know Kevin He pretty well, we actually played against each other growing up and we skate together as well so he was in my year about coming to Niagara,” Virgilio said. “Another guy is Ivan Galiyanov; I’ve been skating with him for a little while now but they all have nothing but good things to say about the team and organization down there.”


Virgilio, who will be entering his third year in the OHL, says that he wants to take a step forward as a leader on and off the ice as well, given that there are so many 16 and 17-year-old players on the team who will be looking for support from someone who has played on a successful playoff team.

 

“I think for me it’s taking a big step and being someone who not only that coaches can rely on but also someone my teammates can rely on too,” Virgilio said. “It’s a young core and I remember when I was 16-years-old in the league and it’s not always the easiest, you need some guidance and mentorship. If I can be a leader that these guys can rely on and just be productive on and off the ice, I think that’s probably my biggest goal coming down to Niagara.”


 

Virgilio ended by saying that Niagara fans should be excited for what’s to come with this group that they’re building and talked about what it’s like to experience playoff hockey, which the IceDogs have been craving over the last four-year drought.

 

“It’s cutthroat; a hard, fast game,” Virgilio said. “Every check is finished and plays are harder to make so you have to be ready to execute. I think the teams who are able to recover from their mistakes the fastest and are able to execute the game plan the quickest are usually the team that end up successful come playoff time. It’s something that the IceDogs fans should look forward to because this team we have moving forward is going to be able to do that.”

 

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