Amherst College women’s hockey coach Jeff Matthews continuing family legacy while blazing own trail

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 03-15-2023 7:50 PM

When people mention Coach Matthews in the Western Massachusetts area, most will think of C.B. “Moose” Matthews from Westfield. During his 31-year career, Matthews coached the Bombers to three state championships and 16 Western Mass. titles before retiring after the 2019-20 season. 

Lately however, the biggest success story in the Matthews family is Moose’s son, Jeff.

Jeff Matthews has been coaching the Amherst College women’s hockey program since 2012, and now has his team in its first NCAA tournament semifinal appearance since 2010.

“Every now and then I go to Westfield [High School] games and (friends) always come up to me and said ‘Boy, you trained that son up good.’ I say, ‘No, no, he did it on his own,’” Moose Matthews said. “I gotta be honest, I feel that he understands what's out there today, what's gotta go down to make a winning team… I think he's a few steps ahead of me.” 

Jeff Matthews grew up surrounded by hockey with his father coaching, and he’s made it a central part of his life in his own career. Jeff started playing at a young age, and his dad coached him through mites until he was about 11 years old. The younger Matthews played for Jim Lindsay at Deerfield Academy for four years before continuing his career in college at RPI. After his time with the Engineers, he graduated and went to Sweden to play for a season. 

“I knew I wasn't destined for the NHL,” Matthews said. “I (wanted) a little more worldly experience. The European option was attractive. My assistant [coach] at RPI had played there, he put me in connection with the right people. It was fun to go over there and play and then I hung them up.”

His playing career finished, Matthews wasn’t sure that he was ready to leave the game behind just yet. At first, he thought he’d go right back to the hockey world. He had a graduate assistantship lined up at RPI, but something gave him pause. He decided to give the ‘real world’ a test run first, getting a business job for a couple of years to see how it felt. 

“I envy these kids that definitely know what they want to do at such a young age. Just being young and kind of blazing my own trail in life – I think it's something I needed to experience to see if it was for me,” Matthews said on his business detour. “I think I ended up where I was meant to be.” 

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Matthews decided to give coaching a try, heading back at RPI as an assistant coach for the men’s program. He wound up being in exactly the right place – it was there where he met his now wife, Sarah, who’d just finished an illustrious career playing hockey at Providence College and now was an assistant for the RPI women’s hockey team. After a short time with the Engineers, both took jobs up at Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. – Matthews coaching the boys’ junior team and Sarah helping with the girls’ team. 

Matthews had a successful run at Northwood, where he served as both a member of the school’s faculty and the coach, finishing with a 174-59-17 record over the course of six seasons. He and Sarah also had two children, Carsten and Max, while living in Lake Placid. Despite his success, Matthews missed coaching at the collegiate level, and after looking around at a few opportunities, landed at Amherst in 2012. 

“I was like, ‘I think this could be it,’” Sarah Matthews recalled. “I think it'd be a really great fit for him professionally and for us as a family… just with the type of person he is and how he really looks at the whole picture of the student athlete, he's fully committed to them and their experience at Amherst and what they're going to do when they leave Amherst. I felt like the whole vibe of the school and the area would be perfect.” 

So far, it has been a perfect fit for Matthews and his family, now one member stronger with the birth of their youngest Maren six years ago. The success on the ice translated easily to the college level – Matthews has a 164-70-31 mark with the Mammoths, and has led his team to two of the last three NESCAC titles.

More importantly than the on-ice results is the long-term success of his players off the ice. Matthews said he recruits the person before the player, and he focuses heavily on academics at Amherst before any of the athletics. A self-proclaimed educator, Matthews has been learning on the job as much as he’s been teaching. 

“I used to think that you just had to respect each other but I really changed that mindset a few years ago. I want my players to love each other,” Matthews said. “If you have that, you're gonna have a connection that's powerful.”

After growing up in one of the most well-known hockey families in Western Mass., Jeff Matthews has now built one of his own, expanding on the friends and hockey connections he had as a kid and young adult. He’s built not only a successful hockey program, but one where players and alumni can stay connected long after graduation.

The Mammoths have one weekend left to battle together for college hockey’s ultimate prize, as they’ll tangle with Hamilton on Friday night in the Division 3 Frozen Four at Orr Rink (7 p.m.). But regardless of the outcome, Matthews & Co. know the bonds they’ve forged will last long after this historic season. 

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