Matt Graham Hits 300 FPHL Games
Longevity is a blessing in the sports world, especially in a league where players who are released sometimes struggle to find their way back to pro hockey. Prowlers general manager and head coach Matt Graham gets set to reach a mark of longevity that few have reached in the FPHL before him. Nov. 18’s game in Columbus will mark his 300th in the league, ninth in league history, and 379th in the professional ranks.
After graduating from Becker College in 2013, Graham looked for his next hockey opportunity and found it in the SPHL. “I signed to go to Peoria and I went to training camp there and made the team out of training camp,” Graham said.
The opportunity wouldn’t last long. Roster shuffling, very common in single-A pro hockey, led to Graham looking for a new logo to represent. “I spent three games there with them and then they got some guys back from the East Coast Hockey League and my buddy [Brendan] Parkhouse and myself were out,” Graham said. “We drove to Danville, Illinois, against the advice of our agent at the time who said we should just go home and wait for another SPHL team to pick us up, but we thought it would be better to continue to play.”
Graham and Parkhouse both grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, California. They played together most of their lives including in juniors with the Bay City Bombers in 2005-06 and the Helena Bighorns the following two seasons. Both suited up at Becker from 2009-13 before heading to the pros together.
“We went to Danville and skated with Nick Niedert, he was the goaltender at the time, and [GM/head coach Mike] Chighisola,” Graham said. “Upon driving into the town, there were a bunch of old, torn down factories and warehouse buildings. They had a bunch of crows on top of them and they were flying all over the place and it looked like a terrible city and a terrible place to be.”
They weren’t there for long. After just one practice, the two headed further east and joined another then-FHL franchise. “We practiced with them one day and then called someone else that we knew in the league,” Graham said. “We told those guys in Danville that we were going to Knoxville [SPHL] and we ended up just driving to Watertown.”
A week later, Graham and Parkhouse saw the team they left after just one skate. “My first game in Watertown, we were actually playing Danville,” Graham said. “I was like ‘these guys are going to kill us because we just walked out of there.’ I played on a line with the fighter at the time, Jeff Dill, and I think I remember we ended up producing at least a point or two.”
His second weekend also produced interesting moments for the young rookie. “We were playing against [Trevor Karasiewicz] and [Ahmed] Mahfouz in Dayton and they were yelling at the referees, screaming at them,” Graham said. “Next thing you know, [Karasiewicz] is chucking water bottles across the ice at the refs circle. That was pretty interesting.”
Graham’s time as a Privateer was also short. After just a few games, he picked up again, this time by himself, and headed to Slovakia to play for HC Detva in the country’s second division. He returned to Watertown after the Slovakian season ended and played a few more games, finishing with his first 17 in the league.
Although brief, his first season did produce some of his favorite memories. “We were playing in the playoffs and Joe Pace came out to defend me on a two-on-one,” Graham said. “I had no stick in my hands and he came and attacked me. He came to hit me and I kicked the puck between his legs and Britt Ouellette went in and scored.”
Graham and Parkhouse teamed up for HC Detva over the next two years, winning a championship in 2014-15, before returning back to the United States for the 2016-17 season under different circumstances. “[Parkhouse] said he was going to stay in America this year but I was still going to go back over there,” Graham said. “As I got to the airport in San Francisco to go see my buddy in Sweden first, two teams folded in the top league so there was a surplus of players so they no longer needed my service.”
This began Graham’s month and a half “tour of Europe,” as a friend put it. “I skated with my buddy’s team in Sweden, I stayed on his couch for probably a month,” Graham said. “I took tryouts in south Sweden for two weeks and then I flew to France for a tryout there and that was a mess because they couldn’t get me a visa.”
The Prowlers were already set with their roster, which included Parkhouse, and Graham turned down an offer to go to the Berlin River Drivers’ free agent camp but found a home in Danbury. “[Berlin head coach] André Niec told me that I could go to free agent camp if I wanted to and I said ‘I think I have a pretty established resume at this point and my buddy is signed in the league, I’m not going to go to free agent camp,’” Graham said. “I ended up calling David Lun with the Danbury Titans at the time and he was more than happy to bring me in.”
Graham finished that season third on the Titans with 58 points in 49 games. He teamed up with current Prowlers Alex Johnson and Dalton Jay during that campaign.
From there, Graham joined Parkhouse in Port Huron and played the next 233 games of his career, and counting, as a Prowler. Graham’s first with the Prowlers was Parkhouse’s last full pro season. The two put a bow on their careers as teammates when he returned to play three games in 2021-22. Parkhouse is now an assistant coach with the Ontario Jr. Reign in the USPHL Premier.
Graham has found success on the ice in Port Huron, winning the 2019-20 FPHL Forward of the Year award and averaging over a point per game in each of the last five seasons. He continues that pace with 12 points in 10 games this year.
Off the ice, Graham joined the Prowlers’ front office in 2018 as an assistant coach. “I met Amber, my wife, here and I was going to stay here that summer in Port Huron,” he said. “Joe [Pace] ended up taking the team over from his dad and he was looking for someone to help him run things and he knew I was staying around. He had asked me if I would be interested in helping him out and being the assistant coach at that point and I kind of just ran from there. I always knew I wanted to stay in hockey after I was done playing”
Graham became the head coach and general manager in 2021 and named Johnson, who went from Danbury to Port Huron in the same offseason as him, his assistant.
Over his career, Graham has watched the league go from the FHL to the FPHL and grow from four teams to 10. As he developed and got better, so did the league. “It’s less violent,” Graham said. “It’s stronger for sure. The talent from your best player to your worst player, the discrepancy is not that significant. Everyone can play at this level now. You’re getting a lot more college guys. The talent has come a long way since then and it’s definitely a lot safer of a league.”
Whether it’s the FHL or FPHL, Matt Graham is a significant part of the league’s history. His 383 career points rank fifth and his 264 assists are fourth all-time. He also sits top-3 in goals, points, games played and penalty minutes in Prowlers history and is the franchise’s leader in assists with 222. Player, coach and general manager, Graham has been a large part of the league for 300 games and will continue to for many more to come.