Carving a New Path: Penguins Players ‘Saw’ Something in Woodworking

Many people picked up new hobbies over last year and a half as they spent a lot more time at home because of the pandemic. And a few of the Penguins have one in common: woodworking.

Mike MathesonZach Aston-ReeseMarcus Pettersson and Tristan Jarry all stayed busy with different projects that vary in scale, from crafting coasters, cutting and charcuterie boards to building tables, fences and even a pole barn.

“It’d be the answer that no one would think if you said a Swede, an American and two Canadians walk into a bar,” Pettersson joked. “It’s like, well, they’re carpenters. You would never guess.”

If the four of them started a business, Jarry joked that Matheson would likely be in charge, since “Matty’s a perfectionist.” And the Penguins defenseman almost has to be when making items like coasters, since there’s literally no room for error.

“Those were really hard because they’re super small, so there wasn’t any room for mistakes,” Matheson said.

Fortunately, he was able to rely on his friend Chris Bradley – who actually grew up with Mike’s wife Emily in New York – for guidance. That’s who first inspired Matheson to try his hand at woodworking, as Bradley creates custom wood and resin designs that he sells through his side business, Dusty Eagle Woodworks.

“Chris does it a lot, and is really good at it,” Matheson said. “I was up there in Buffalo one summer and he was showing me stuff, and I thought it was super interesting.”

So Matheson decided to give it a go in the spring of 2020, watching videos on YouTube and texting or FaceTiming Bradley whenever he was working on something. Matheson was pleased to discover that not only did he find it pretty straightforward – he also found it super relaxing. 

“It’s something I enjoy doing, something that kind of takes my mind off things,” Matheson said. “I grew up helping my dad with a bunch of things. We rebuilt our boat when I was younger and stuff like that, so I’ve always been around tools. That aspect of it has always been pretty innate, I guess. So the rest, once he explained how to do it, it all fell into place pretty easily.”

Matheson tries to do something different each time so that he gets a new learning experience. He began by using plain wood for his creations, which included cutting and charcuterie boards, then started using resin to add color and designs – like when he made a set of coasters featuring the Canadian maple leaf. 

Now, Matheson has progressed to building a river table, where the resin is poured in amongst the wood to resemble a flowing body of water. He hasn’t had as much time to work on it as he did during quarantine with the arrival of his first child, son Hudson, in May. But Matheson said it’s slowly coming together.

“When you do something bigger using a lot of resin, then the calculations are a little bit more complex and there’s definitely a lot more room for screwing up more drastically,” Matheson said with a laugh. “I guess that’s probably the hardest part, is there’s a little bit more pressure, for sure.”

Aston-Reese also built a table when doing renovations at his parents’ house on Long Island, where he lives during the summers. The Penguins forward wanted to thank his dad Will and his mom Carolyn for all of the sacrifices they made to help get him where he is today, like waking up at 5 AM to drive him to the rink, so he got their basement redone this offseason.

“There’s a nice area to watch the games now with a big wraparound couch. You can probably fit like six or seven people,” Aston-Reese said. “Then I wanted a bar table for behind it, so you could sit behind the couch and fit four or five more people. So I went out and bought a big piece of oak.”

Aston-Reese, who also relied on YouTube for help, said the process was about what he expected. But what made it tough was the heat.

“I spent like three or four hours sanding it just to get it good, but it was so hot outside, I was sweating everywhere,” he said with a laugh. “And the process was taking so long, the wood was starting to warp a little bit. Then I had to get the legs attached. It was my first time doing it, so a little bit of trial and error. But now that I’ve done it, I kind of know how to do it and what to expect.”

While Aston-Reese is a rookie at this sort of thing, Pettersson is a cagey vet. The Penguins defenseman actually has a background in carpentry dating back to when he attended high school in his native Sweden. 

He explained that the curriculum is set up so that students complete a three-year vocational education in addition to traditional classroom learning, and they can choose the line of work they want to follow. Pettersson wanted to do something more practical, so he chose carpentry.

In the first two years, Pettersson had three days of regular schoolwork and spent the rest of the time in a shop, where he and his fellow students built things like saunas and storage units. Then in the third year, Pettersson was able to work as an apprentice of sorts with different local companies.

“It was something that was really cool and really fun to do,” Pettersson said. “Not just sitting in school, but having that option to be out and do practical stuff. So I’m educated in that. I’m not going to say I’m good (laughs), but I have an education in it. Those two things don’t always go hand-in-hand.”

Pettersson joked that’s the line he always gives his girlfriend Beatrice whenever she asks him to do work around the new home they moved into this past summer in Sweden, but he always ends up getting the job done. He’s done doors, drilled fronts, and built a picket fence. And next summer, Pettersson hopes to construct an outdoor kitchen for the property. 

“That’s something that I’m really, really excited about, and seeing if I can do it by myself or if I need to have somebody do it for me,” Pettersson said. “But it’s something I’m going to look into and build. I’m going to do a concrete bench and have the barbecue integrated and stuff like that, so it’s going to be real fun to try that out.”

He could potentially get some advice from Jarry, who did the opposite of starting out small by building a pole barn at his farm outside of Sherwood Park, Alberta. 

Jarry had always been interested in construction, as his father Dave had helped refinish a couple houses when he was growing up. So when Tristan and his fiancée Hannah wanted to build a shelter for their vehicles and farm equipment at the start of the pandemic, they decided to do it themselves, so that way no one had to come to the house.

“From there, it was just kind of looking at Pinterest, seeing different ideas,” Jarry said. “Like eh, I could probably do that, or I could do that. I have a couple of friends that are carpenters, so I bounced ideas off of them, like how it would stick and how the structure would work. I’d have them send me pictures or drawings of how to do it, then I’d do it and ask them if it was good. So it was kind of going back and forth.”

Jarry joked that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the project, but he actually really enjoyed the entire process. And now that the couple is building a new house, they took apart the deck from the old house and used the boards to make a treehouse of sorts, which turned out much better than they expected.

“Being able to see something go from nothing to a full finished product is pretty cool,” the Penguins goalie said. “It’s pretty rewarding. So I think that was the part I liked about it.”

Matheson said it’s also a great way to put his mind somewhere other than hockey for a while.

“And it’s just something new and different that it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are doing,” Matheson said. “It’s just like a little niche thing that I find a lot of fun.”

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