The Portage Terriers were very active at the CJHL cutdown deadline in December. The squad added five new skaters on December 1st, none making a larger contribution than defenceman Matt McLeod.
The Winnipegger spent the last few seasons in his hometown with the Blues, but in the final year of his junior career, he was happy to be moved to a winning situation.
"There's a sense of pride and honour to play for the Terriers, with how Blake (Spiller) has run the organization for the past 20 years," says McLeod. "I wasn't sure about leaving home again with school but they made it very comfortable for me. I felt like family as soon as I got there."
McLeod put up 11 points in 33 games with the Terriers during the regular season and added two playoff points. The defenceman played in all six games at the Centennial Cup. He says the opportunity to end his junior hockey career on a national stage was one of the biggest reasons he wanted to be a Terrier.
"It was the best send-off you could get. Coming from the Blues, where it was a bit of a mess at the start of the year, it was a little tough to come to the rink. My love of the game was in question a little bit," McLeod explains. "Coming to Portage really revived that and made my last seven months, probably, the greatest hockey experience I've had. Having fun with the guys, the coaching, practices, and anytime I was at the rink, it was fun to be there. I really think this was a great send-off for me and something I'll look back on in my later years and reminisce."
He is proud that they were able to play their best games of the entire season at the Centennial Cup, and finally showcase their full potential as a team. McLeod adds the local fans played a big part in their success all season but especially at the Centennial.
"They are probably the best junior hockey fans you can find. They'll always come to show out. Whether it's a Tuesday night, Friday night, or Sunday matinee game, they're always there supporting us. It felt like I was at a Jets' game when we were playing Collingwood with the boos coming out and the 'Ref you suck!' chant," McLeod continues. "Even seeing them outside of the arena, they're great people. The people of Portage are very welcoming and really supportive of the players that are there. I can't say enough good things about the fans."
Yesterday Bailey Monteith got to read and play at MacGregor Elementary School, and today Matt McLeod and Mike Stubbs visited La Verendrye School! We love "I Love to Read" Month! #MJHLTerriers pic.twitter.com/I89KTz15j9— Portage Terriers (@PortageTerriers) February 10, 2023
While this was his favourite season of playing hockey, McLeod believes what he'll remember most was the bond the team had off the ice.
"I've never really been on a team that clicked the way we did this year. When we'd hang out together, there would be 23 guys, not four or five. Everyone was really tight this year," says McLeod. "There will be some on-ice stuff I'll remember. I'll remember that last game (7-1 loss to the Battlefords North Stars). There's still a sour taste in my mouth from it. It's hard to get over the magnitude of it but we were one of the top four teams in the country this season, which is really good."
McLeod says this is the end of the road for him regarding hockey. He spoke with a few schools about the possibility of playing next season, but ultimately, he says he's not sure if his body would hold up as he's been dealing with back issues.
The Winnipeg product is now starting his journey to becoming a lawyer and notes a lot of what he learned as a Terrier should help him in all aspects of life.
"Humility was a big one. Coming from the Blues, where everyone kind of did their own thing, but here it was a group. Learning to trust each other and build those relationships was really good," McLeod explains. "Work ethic is another one. Practices were always really hard in Portage but everyone on the ice stayed after to work on their game. When you saw other guys do something, it made you want to do it as well."
McLeod thanks Portage and the Terriers' organization for "The greatest year of my life."