C.R. RoughRiders forward Matt Hudie inspired by dying father

'I do everything for him. I know this is where he wants me to be.'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s an unusual number for a hockey player.

Wayne Gretzky was the iconic ‘99.’ Mario Lemieux wore ‘66.’ Sidney Crosby is the famous ‘87.’

Matt Hudie of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders wears sweater number ‘53.’ Seems unique and totally random, until he tells you the significance to him.

His father was born in 1953. Tom Hudie has Stage 4 lung cancer.

There is no Stage 5.

“I call him every day and talk to him about how I’m doing here,” said Hudie, whose team plays road games this weekend at Tri-City and Des Moines. “He definitely motivates me every day to be the best player I can be. I do everything for him. I know this is where he wants me to be. He really wants me to go to college and succeed. So everything I do, it’s for him.”

It’s a struggle for the Hudie family. Sandy Hudie works the midnight shift so she can take her husband to his myriad doctor’s appointments during the day.

Matt’s older brother, Ryan, helps out a lot, too. He played hockey first, which helped get Matt into the sport.

Matt Hudie spends his offseasons working six, sometimes seven days a week in a factory near the family home in Westland, Mich. He knows his parents can’t afford to give him money for his hockey endeavors.

“I actually go from working, to working out, to being on the ice,” the 20-year-old forward said. “That was my routine. Then go home and sleep.”

He played three seasons for the Little Caesars program in suburban Detroit, said the people there helped him a lot with the costs. Last season, he was with the Cowichan Valley Capitals in the junior British Columbia Hockey League in Canada.

A good season there led the Green Bay Gamblers to take him in the 2016 USHL Entry Draft, Phase II. He led the club in preseason scoring, but there was no room for him on the roster, and he was traded to the RoughRiders just prior to the regular-season opener three weeks ago.

“It was pretty surprising, but I kind of knew it was coming, considering they had three 96s (birthdates) as defensemen and a forward who was their captain,” Hudie said. “I knew going into camp they needed defensemen. It was a good opportunity for me to get looked at and everything. I mean, I’m definitely happy where I ended up.”

Hudie has two goals in C.R.’s first five games.

“He’s versatile, can play center or wing,” RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said. “He’s got speed, can make plays. He can play on the power play, can play on the penalty kill.”

As a 17-year-old, Hudie was drafted by the major junior Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He went to their tryout camp, played on the same line as New York Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang.

But a shoulder injury helped in preventing him from making the team.

“My coach at the time, he played in the OHL for the London Knights, so he was really pushing me toward the OHL,” Hudie said. “Honestly, I wish he would have brought more colleges up to me when I was 17. I spent some time trying to make an OHL team, but ... I realized college is where I need to be. Especially with my situation at home. College is absolutely the number one thing I need to do.”

Under their circumstances, mom and dad can’t make the trip to watch Matt play in Cedar Rapids. But the plan is for them to make the short trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., when the RoughRiders play the United States National Team Development Program for two games in early December.

Yeah, that will be emotional.

“It’d be the first time my dad’s seen me play live in about three years,” Hudie said. “That will be unbelievable. Watching me on the computer is not the same. Not the same at all.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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