The West Nipissing Lynx will see some major changes to their roster this off-season, but one local figure will remain a key piece of the team’s transition, following a breakout year in 2021-22.
Sturgeon Falls’ own Mathieu Savignac wrapped up an incredible inaugural season for the Lynx, earning the GMHL North Division’s Rookie of the Year award last month. Savignac beat out Alex Smirnov of the Almaguin Spartans and Evan Knight of the Bradford Bulls for the honour.
“To be quite honest, it wasn’t even my mindset that I’d be qualifying for those awards, but winning it definitely made it special,” says Savignac. “It’s definitely a year in the books, for sure.”
Growing up in town, Savignac followed the Lynx and dreamed of one day playing for them. That opportunity came in 2019, after Savignac was selected by West Nipissing in the 11th round of the GMHL Draft. His first camp with the team came the following year in 2020, where the 16-year-old was the youngest on the ice. Unfortunately, after several weeks of practices, the team was sent home, the season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite not getting any game action that year, Savignac was able to see what areas he needed to work on to have success in the league littered with older, more developed players. Working out in his home gym and watching YouTube videos for stickhandling tips, he was able to take some noticeable strides in his game during the lockdown.
“From the first camp that I went to, to the second, I definitely saw more improvement on what I was practicing on, which made me feel a lot more confident and the teammates were just incredible, they always had my back,” he describes. “The coaching staff too, Coach Jeff had a big impact on this year. He’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve had in my career.”
Head coach Jeff Mancini has equally high praise for Savignac. “He’s such a nice young man, he competes, his heart’s on his shoulder too,” lauds Mancini. “When you have that young competitive player that’s doing everything for the team in his power, it’s a really easy conversation from a coaching staff to a player… He’s just a pleasure to be around. He probably took the loss to Bradford in the first round the hardest, because he knew we had both those games and we just fell short. It was a learning curve and he’ll be a better player because of that experience, and I think a lot of guys on the team will too.”
It didn’t take long for Savignac to make an impact with the Lynx. In his first game, he landed his first goal in a 6-5 win over Ville-Marie.
“I wasn’t used to the speed, I was coming out of our zone, and I got lit up pretty good,” he recalls. “Braden Simon gave me a big pat on the back and told me ‘welcome to the league.’ Then after the next period I went out and put us up by a goal, they all gave me an applause and that felt pretty good. It was definitely an amazing first game.”
That initial game was a sign of things to come, as Savignac would continue to find the back of the net throughout the year. Mancini even began to challenge him to take on a larger offensive role.