Predators' Mat Myers becomes role model while pursuing hockey dream

Mat Myers (immediately to the right of the Clarence Campbell Bowl) helps break down video for the Predators. John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

The moment he started running around the house in his hockey gear and dragging his double-bladed skates across the pond near his home in Manchester, New Hampshire, Mat Myers was hooked. The son of a hockey coach, he knew that his life would always revolve around the sport.

As the Nashville Predators' video coordinator, the origins of Myers' NHL dreams are fairly typical. But his path to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, which opens Monday (8 p.m. ET) with Game 1 between the Predators and the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins, certainly isn't.

Born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, Myers, who is now 26, developed an average-sized torso but smaller limbs and a head larger than usual. The condition made walking and balance a challenge at a young age.

Looking to help his first-born child develop those skills -- and for protection as well -- Mat's father saw an opportunity to pass down his passion for hockey.

"At a young age, my dad bought me and my brother hockey equipment," Myers said. "Gloves, elbow pads and a helmet. I would always be wearing it around, just chasing my brother around. I was secretly loving the equipment, but it was more for safety reasons."

He started playing organized hockey at age 6, but Myers eventually had to skate alongside children a few years his junior. By 12, he was forced to hang up his skates because of his condition but became a fixture around the team his father, Marty, coached at Bedford High School in Manchester while fanatically cheering on his two younger brothers and a little sister, each of whom played throughout high school.

"I'd just always be at the rink and live vicariously through my brothers, I guess," Myers said. "Watching them grow up as hockey players in high school, going to their tryouts and their practices and every single game. Watching and just picturing if I wasn't a little person, then that would be me out there. The passion was always stuck there and I continued to find ways to stay involved with hockey."

Attending Trinity High School, a rival of his father's program at Bedford, Myers became the varsity hockey team's student manager. His enthusiasm proved so inspiring that midway through his freshman year he was invited to skate with the team during practices. Throughout high school, he'd take to the ice to push his teammates and affirm that his size wouldn't keep him from skating.

After high school, Myers enrolled in the communications program at the University of New Hampshire, a decision shaped largely by the school's Division I hockey program. Almost immediately after landing on campus, he called head coach Dick Umile and made his case to become the team's student manager. For the first time in his hockey life, he hit a dead end.

With UNH's hockey team already enlisting the help of four student managers, Myers' services weren't needed. Rebuffed by the program's head coach, he tracked down team captain Bobby Butler in the school's dining hall. Butler, who would later go on to play 130 games with four NHL teams, invited Myers to attend the Wildcats' next practice.

It was there that Myers introduced himself in person to Umile.

"Once I said my name, he remembered that phone call and invited me to come watch practices on the bench for that year," Myers said. "I ended up working my way into being a student manager for two years until I saw the opportunity to become a video coordinator."

Myers' inspiring rise through the UNH hockey program wasn't the only thing that earned him widespread admiration. Since high school, he had shared his unique perspective through a blog and social media presence he updated under the name Little Motivator. It was here that he expressed occasional insights into being a little person in a big world.

The response from the broader little-person community proved overwhelming and unintentionally made him a role model. It's a responsibility he took even more seriously after landing in Nashville before the 2015-16 season.

"Now there is going to be someone out there, a little person or someone with a physical handicap, that is going to potentially see me in the background on TV or just coming off the team plane. That's a great honor and responsibility for me," Myers said. "I just built this mindset that I'm doing something now that is greater than myself. I need to conduct and be self-aware of the situation and have gratitude and always know that you're of value."

Of course, his transition from UNH to Nashville was far from seamless. After graduating in 2013, Myers worked as a communications consultant before USA Hockey came calling. Myers had been referred to the women's national team by employees at XOS Digital, the company behind the video platform he had closely worked with in college. Before long, he became a regular video coordinator for the team, providing video work one weekend out of every month.

Then came the call that changed everything.

Two years after reaching out to Predators video coach Lawrence Feloney on Twitter (he also reached out to two other NHL teams) after his college graduation, Myers received a response and a job offer. It was a stunning and unexpected correspondence that now has Myers breaking down video and providing crucial assistance to Nashville's coaching staff and players with everything from pre-scouting opponents to analyzing faceoff techniques.

Less than two years after taking his dream job, the kid who grew up living vicariously through the exploits of friends and family is about to have his very own spot on hockey's biggest stage. And his role, not to mention his remarkable journey, hasn't gone unnoticed by the people he has touched through the years.

"I was always excited or a fan or a cheerleader or support system for my brothers," he said. "To now have it come back and for them to be really excited and fans, the supportive texts I'm getting from back home right now, it's a pretty cool feeling to finally be on the receiving end."