Maple Leafs star becomes fastest US-born player to 50 goals

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was inspired to begin playing hockey by going to Coyotes games.

Perhaps, the All-Star Game MVP could inspire more youngsters in Arizona by scoring his 50th goal of the season on Wednesday night during a 6-3 win at the Coyotes’ arena.

The milestone goal happened in his 54th game of the season, giving him sole possession of fastest to 50 goals for a U.S.-born player. Matthews, 26, had been tied with Kevin Stevens (1992-93) for that record at 62 games. (Matthews did that during a 60-goal MVP campaign in 2021-22.) Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid had been the fastest active player to hit the mark, doing it in 61 games last season.

Matthews’ 50th came in the first period on the power play to give the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead. He collected his 51st goal of the season in the second period when a puck deflected off him and went in.

No player had scored 50 goals in 55 or fewer games since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux scored 50 in 50 in 1995-96.

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Matthews, who has missed just one game this season, told reporters before the game that he had 20 to 25 relatives and friends in the stands. That included some young cousins who have started playing in the past few years.

“I take a lot of pride in being from where I am and trying to be a role model for kids coming out of Arizona to just have that hope and the belief that no matter where you’re from, if you have a dream and stick to it, it’s something you can accomplish,’ he said.

Matthews, the first overall pick in 2016, scored four goals in his NHL debut and had a career-best 60 goals in 2021-22. He’s on pace to become the NHL’s first 70-goal scorer since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny scored 76 in 1992-93.

He has had six hat tricks this season, including twice in back-to-back games. He now has nine goals in his last four games.

His 0.65 goals-per-game average is tops among active players with at least 100 games. Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who is chasing Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal-scoring record, is averaging 0.60.

The Maple Leafs picked up their fifth consecutive win, all without Morgan Rielly, who was suspended for five games for cross-checking the Ottawa Senators’ Ridly Greig. Rielly lost his appeal and can return Thursday night at the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Coyotes are winless in their last 11 games.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY