Love and life are deep, maybe as his skies are wide. — Rush “Tom Sawyer”
From the Ice Palace in Aiea to varsity college hockey in Rhode Island to club college hockey in Southern California.
That was the path Grant Matsushita took in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As a teenager and Aiea High student, he started going to the only ice hockey rink in Hawaii on weekends because it was cool.
“They were starting up the first ever youth ice hockey program and that is where I met (former Ice Palace head of coaching) Ken Perel,” Matsushita told Bedrock Sports Hawaii recently.
Grant Matsushita, in his Salve Regina Seahawks uniform.
Eventually, Matsushita went to a hockey camp in Minnesota and played for Proctor Academy in New Hampshire and then at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island.
“Tony Losardo from New Jersey, a friend I made from Heartland Hockey camps in Minnesota, introduced me to the school (Proctor),” Mastsushita said. They had their own ski slope and hockey rink. Spencer Zaha (who went from the Ice Palace youth ranks to a spot on the SUNY Buffalo State College team) introduced me to Heartland Hockey camps, where I could get seven hours of ice time a day plus all day weekends. That one two-week camp got me more ice time than one year in Hawaii.”
The time spent at the summer camp turned into a job, when the owner, Steve Jensen, hired Matsushita to be a counselor every other summer. In the summer of 2020, Matsushita performed the job of camp counselor for the 13th time.
Grant Matsushita in his Pepperdine uniform.
Matsushita made other connections that have lasted a long time. James Smith, also from New Jersey who Matsushita knew at Heartland, moved to Hawaii many years later and the two have played together in the annual Old Timer’s Tournament at the Ice Palace. Smith is a teacher at Mililani High School.
Another friend, Matt Shannon from Canada — Matsushita’s linemate at Proctor — went on to play at the pro level.
“I got injured (fractured finger) in my second half of the season at Proctor, which is when I went from first line to fourth,” Matsushita said. “So I trained during the spring and took a risk as a walk-on to try out at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.
“Salve (NCAA Division III) was the last-place team in their league the previous year and I thought I could make it. I came in second in dry-land (training), second only to the captain. ”
But Matsushita found out, devastatingly, that he did not make the team after tryouts.
“Coach called me, but I did not answer the phone,” he said. “He left a message for me: ‘Grant, I know how far you have come, and how hard you have worked. Come to my office when you get this message but if you get this late (in the day), grab your gear and come to practice tonight.’ I showed up. That year, I was part of the team, but could not skate in a game. I picked up pucks, filled up water bottles, videotaped games and did anything coach asked, including chasing power-play lines if they were slacking.”
Grant Matsushita’s fans at Pepperdine, including his eventual wife (left).
The next season, Matsushita made the team.
“I tallied two assists and had a blast,” he added. “I knew my hockey career was limited and I wanted to pursue academics. Pursuing college hockey had other benefits, like going from a C student at Aiea High School (Class of 1998) to getting into a great school like Pepperdine University (Class of 2004).”
At Pepperdine, Matsushita also played on and coached the club hockey team.
Grant Matsushita wrote about the Salve Regina team for the school newspaper.
“I put in my yearbook at Aiea High School: ‘Reality is the best possible cure for your dreams,’ and to play college hockey was my dream. I hope this story can inspire any keiki out there who also want to play in college. Go for your dreams, work hard, have faith, and make a lot of friends along the way.”
Grant Matsushita and his family.
Nowadays, Matsushita, age 40, lives with his wife Lisa and children Kayla Saki, Nina Mio and Aria Yuka in Fresno, Calif., and works for the the Straumann Group, which sells dental implants and technology.
He still laces up the skates to play ice hockey and gets in on the action at the Ice Palace when he visits. He also said he would come out and play with Hawai’s inline players at Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas (closed due to the pandemic) when it reopens for business.
Author’s note to Bedrock Sports Hawaii’s hockey readers: Imagine that!!!!! Seven hours a day of ice time at a hockey camp. That type of statement is bound to make many Hawaii hockey players jealous. That story reminds me of the Metropolitan Hockey Camp I went to at age 13 in 1973 in Aurora, Ontario, about 30 miles from Toronto.
It was on the campus of St. Andrew’s College (Grade 13 in Canada). I was there for two weeks and we had three hockey sessions per day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and two hockey sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with weekend hockey sessions optional.
My fingers had blisters from tightening my skates so often. Haha, and one of the guys at camp could play “Smoke on The Water” (which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts on July 27, 1973, according to Billboard.com) on the organ. Ahhh, the things one remembers.
Editor’s note: An updated list of Hawaii ice hockey and inline hockey players from the youth ranks who have gone on to play in college or high school or in juniors on the mainland is below. Contact Nick Abramo at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have changes to make or if you know of others who should be on the list.
>> Jason Asato (UNLV)
>> Ben Barros (Lindenwood)
>> Hannah Barros (Lindenwood)
>> Micah Chun (UNLV)
>> Lindsey Dymond (Colorado0 State)
>> Eric Fujikawa (Purdue)
>> Io Keehu (UNLV)
>> Emerson Lau (UNLV)
>> Andy Oda (Maryland)
>> Matt Quesada (Lindenwood and Colorado State)
>> Keegan Sussman (Purdue)
>> Logan Sussman (UNLV)
>> Hans Suyderhoud (Saint Louis University JV)
>> Matt Suyderhoud (Saint Louis University JV and varsity)
>> Grant Matsushita (Salve Regina)
>> Spencer Zaha (Buffalo State)
>> Zach Pamaylaon (Bryn Athyn)
>> Andrew Vitek (Bethel College JV)
>> Lindsey Dymond (Colorado State)
>> Grant Matsushita (Pepperdine)
>> Cydnee Somera (Union College)
>> Caleb Campbell (unknown team)
>> Thierry Nguepdjo (Eugene Thunder)
>> Cydnee Somera (Boston Shamrocks, JWHL)
>> Trent Takeuchi (Eugene Thunder)
>> Stephen Vitek (team in Michigan unknown)
>> Frank Orrell (Avon Old Farms)
>> Devon Wilson (Avon Old Farms)
>> Ryan Wilson (Avon Old Farms)
ALSO AT BedrockSportsHawaii.com: Richard Pentecost’s Plan To Reopen Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas Submitted To New Mayor Rick Blangiardi