UND's Matt Greene dominant in the NHL

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UND's Matt Greene dominant in the NHL

Matt Greene, assistant captain of the Los Angeles Kings, is now the 13th former UND alumnus to win the Stanley Cup, the National Hockey League's legendary championship trophy.

The 29-year-old, 6-3, 232-pound defenseman earned the honor Monday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when the Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-1 in game six of the best-of-seven series. Greene scored the Kings' sixth goal and led all players in hits during the NHL playoffs. Had the finals gone the other way, Devils captain Zach Parise and center Travis Zajac, also UND alums, would have represented the University.

"Matt Greene's probably one of my favorite defensemen to ever play at UND," said Virg Foss, who covered Fighting Sioux hockey for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years and continues to write for UND athletics. "I think he scared the heck out of a lot of people, but I felt confident whenever Greene was on the ice because he was so dominant."

Greene, a native of Grand Ledge, Mich., grew up around Michigan State's hockey program and players. Although he and his family members were big Spartans fans, he ended up coming to UND where he played three seasons before turning pro with the Edmonton Oilers. He was traded to Los Angeles in 2008.

"I don't think anyone knew exactly what to expect of Greene, but coming to UND was probably one of the best things that could have happened to him," Foss said. "He really blossomed as a leader."

Dean Blais, who now coaches at Nebraska Omaha, was the head coach at UND for Greene's first two seasons and remembers why the hulking defenseman was recruited.

"I liked his personality, plus he was a good student and smart," Blais said. "He had a lot of qualities that would make him a player of high caliber."

During his freshman season, Greene became known not only for delivering bone-crushing checks, but also for taking penalties at inopportune moments.

"Matt took his fair share of penalties because he'd rather hit someone than score a goal," Blais said. "But you need players like that because they're leaders who take charge in the locker room."

Blais compared Greene, who ranks fourth in all-time penalty minutes at UND, to former Sioux tough guys Jim Archibald (first with 540 penalty minutes) and Mike Commodore (third with 382 penalty minutes).

"They learned when to take penalties and when to play disciplined," he said. "If you take too many undisciplined penalties in the NHL, they'll send you to the minors really quick. Players have to play hard, but play smart, too. It's all part of the maturing process."

Tim Hennessy, the longtime radio broadcast voice of Fighting Sioux hockey, said, "Despite Matt's reputation, he was really well-grounded, which came from his parents who were both well-educated. A lot of people thought he was a loose cannon, but he listened well and learned how to play from the coaches at UND."

During the 2004-2005 season – Dave Hakstol's first as head coach and Greene's last at UND – the team elected the junior defenseman its captain. Despite a season wracked by injuries and a fair amount off-ice drama, UND made it to the NCAA Frozen Four.

"It was no surprise to me that Matt Greene became captain as a junior," said former UND sports information director Dan Benson, now media relations director at Minnesota State in Mankato. "His leadership was key in the team advancing to the 2005 national championship game against Denver. He showed a lot of determination in playing through an elbow injury late that season."

During the nationally televised game which UND lost 4-1, it was revealed that Greene was playing with one good arm. Until then, few knew that he'd been battling a serious injury. Hakstol recognized Greene's toughness and leadership abilities as the type of character player every good team needs.

"When Matt walks into a room, he brings an instant presence," Hakstol said. "He has a way of disarming people, and while he's doing that, he's leading and directing. He's is a pretty determined player night in and night out. You know exactly what you're going to get from Matt Greene in all situations."

Echoing Hakstol, Hennessy added, "He's always been a leader type of guy, the type of person people are drawn to. He works hard and he plays the game hard. I'm guessing that he probably expects the same from his teammates."

Hennessy predicts that Greene will have a long professional hockey career.

"At UND, he was a solid player who learned to keep his game simple because he didn't have great strengths on offense," Hennessy said. "Now he's a very heady NHL defensemen who makes great outlet passes. When he gets the puck, he knows where people are and knows what he's going to do with it."

Andrew MacWilliam, who will be a senior defenseman at UND next season, remembers meeting the Kings' defenseman during his freshman season while Greene was in Grand Forks.

"He was a really humble, funny guy – really intelligent," he recalled.

After three seasons at UND, MacWilliam has learned something else about Greene: "Everyone around town has a 'Greener' story of some sort."

Benson remembers Greene as jokester from the moment he arrived at UND in 2002.

"He had a knack for making everyone laugh at any given time, whether it was before practice, on a bus ride or at a restaurant," he said.

On the serious side, current UND sports information director Jayson Hajdu recounted the attributes that make Greene a successful player.

"He's willed himself into becoming a better hockey player by putting time into doing individual drills after practice," Hajdu explained. "He always wanted to become a better player. There was never any pretense with him; he's just a straight-up individual."

Near the locker room in Ralph Engelstad Arena, there's wall dedicated to the UND players in the NHL. Greene's name will soon be displayed as the 13th alum to have won the Stanley Cup, hockey's ultimate honor.

"It speaks to the tradition of the program," MacWilliam said. "You see the guys who've come through the program and developed, and they're now playing on the biggest stage they can.

"When you walk down the hall of the arena and see all the names of all UND's players in the NHL, it makes you want to work a little harder each day. You know they did their job and you need to do yours," he added.

Greene is scheduled to be back in the Grand Forks area next month. On July 14, he'll be participating in the first Frank White-Roger Snortland Invitational Golf Tournament in Walhalla, N.D. White, an assistant professor of sociology, plans to make the tournament an annual event and will donate the proceeds to UND scholarships. Greene is also listed as a distinguished coach for the 2012 UND Hockey School at Ralph Engelstad Arena, which has three sessions July 8-27.

Patrick Miller

University Relations, Writer/Editor

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