New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal specializes in avoiding defenders with his superior speed and skating, but just in case he finds himself in a bind and needs to drop the gloves one day, the center-turned-winger is picking up some helpful skills this summer ahead of the 2023-24 season.
On Wednesday, the two-time All-Star and NHL fastest skater trained with mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and Long Island's own Matt “The Steamrolla” Frevola. The UFC lightweight was born in Huntington, NY, and attended Harborfields High School, where he picked up Brazilian jiu-jitsu while on the wrestling team. Frevola last fought on May 6th vs. Drew Dober, winning the fight by TKO in the first round and earning the Performance of the Night award. The 33-year-old is 11-3-1 in his career.
The 26-year-old Barzal has never fought in his NHL career spanning 420 regular season games, though he was handed three fighting majors while playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. "We’re learning the basics right now, but he’s got some power in those hands and legs, man," Frevola acknowledged when asked how Barzal fared during their training session.
This isn't the first time Barzal has mixed it up with a Long Island MMA fighter. Back in 2018, during his Calder Trophy-winning season, he joined Cal Clutterbuck and Johnny Boychuk for striking training with Chris Weidman, a former UFC middleweight champion.
When MMA fighters aren't available, Barzal has sought out his own teammates on occasion, including Matt Martin. In October 2021, Newsday's Neil Best caught the fourth liner giving Barzal some pointers during a down moment at practice. We're waiting to see if Barzal will ever need to implement these training tips. It's the job of players like Martin and Clutterbuck to ensure he doesn't have to. However, in the event that he moment calls for it, learning how to strike and grapple a little won't hurt.