Blue line is Caito’s institute
OXFORD, Ohio – A successful career in college athletics has always been in Matthew Caito’s pedigree.
Several members of the senior defenseman’s family have competed for Division I schools.
But not in hockey, a seemingly unlikely sport of choice for a 22-year-old raised in Southern California.
His parents, both college athletes originally from New England, encouraged the 5-feet-11, 187-pound Caito to choose hockey, and it was a natural fit.
“They just really started getting me into it, and I really liked it,” Caito said. “Got my first stick when I was really little and I fell in love with it.”
Caito’s father and grandfather both played football for Boston University, and he had uncles that suited up for the Boston College and University of Pittsburgh football teams.
His aunts played field hockey, and his mother was a collegiate gymnast.
The increasingly-violent nature of football is why Caito was steered away from the gridiron. However, rinks are rare in the San Diego suburb of Coto de Caza, where he hails from.
With limited local practice facilities, Caito spent of lot of time traveling in search of ice.
“It’s tough – the minimum ride is probably 30 minutes with no traffic, and with traffic it’s probably an hour-plus,” Caito said. “My parents were always good about getting me there, so I really thank them for all of the time and effort that they put into that – getting me to practices every day.”
Caito’s hockey talent was obvious, so during his high school years he was sent across the country to the Salisbury prep school in Connecticut, where he joined current teammate Kevin Morris.
“That’s where you kind of gauge yourself when you’re younger,” Caito said. “Obviously you’ve got to realize you’ve got time to develop, so going back east where it’s easier (to be discovered), that was really the gauging point where maybe I could do something with this.”
Following two years in prep school, Caito spent one season in juniors, playing for Dubuque, where he was second in defenseman points (26) and first among blueliners in assists (19). He finished that campaign with the second-best plus-minus on the team at plus-16.
During his prep school years, Caito participated an evaluation camp in Oxford with former RedHawk Riley Barber while current MU assistant coach Brent Brekke was in attendance, setting the stage for Caito’s Miami career.
Caito fell in love with the campus as soon as he saw it. Knowing that friends and classmates Jay Williams and Alex Gacek, who were also in east-coast prep schools, were both committed to Miami helped seal his decision.
“I’m like, if there’s more kids like these that are coming in with my class these are going to be a great four years, and it’s been that way,” Caito said.
A goal of Caito’s was to come to Oxford as a true freshman, and after just one season in the USHL, he dressed for Miami on opening night in October of 2012.
“He’s obviously pretty offensive-minded at times, but he’s very dependable, pretty good defensively,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “We just felt like he would be an all-around player for us on the D-side of things.”
All he did his rookie season was lead the RedHawks in defensemen goals, assists and points (5-6-21).
“Obviously he’s tremendously talented and he’s got the work ethic and the right mindset and the good head on his shoulders,” Williams said. “He comes to work every day to make the most of it. Pretty much from Day 1 he’s been first D-pair for us and played 30 minutes a night. Just the experience and the attitude he brings is invaluable to the team.”
He was the lone freshman to play every game in 2012-13, led Miami with 81 blocked shots and he tied for third with a plus-12 rating on a team that advanced to the NCAA regional final in Toledo.
“He just has a knack for seeing the ice,” senior defenseman Taylor Richart said. “Stretch plays that will open up, and he’ll know it’s going to open up before that even happens. I think that’s just having the hockey IQ that he has and just studying the game – he’s always watching video, stuff like that – I think knowing the players and being around the game so much, he knows what’s going to happen before it actually happens.”
Sophomore season was a disappointing one for the RedHawks overall, the lone campaign in the last 10 years they did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but Caito led the team in blocks again with 73.
He also topped the defense corps in assists (13) and points (16), finishing with more helpers than the second- and third-best D-men combined in that category.
It was another solid season for Caito as a junior, as he went 4-20-24 – again posting Miami defensemen highs in the latter two – and he led the team with a plus-19 rating and in blocked shots with 64. That includes a goal and an assist in the RedHawks’ NCAA Tournament loss to Providence.
“Matty’s decision-making has gotten a lot better at times,” Blasi said. “When he’s playing well he keeps things simple he makes smart plays in the defensive zone and the offensive zone.”
This season, Caito has three goals and six assists for nine points and 32 blocks. All of his goals have come on the power play, and he netted the game winner at Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 22 in a 3-1 win over the seventh-ranked Mavericks.
That’s a total of 250 blocked shots. In 3½ seasons, Caito has recorded 15 goals and 55 assists for 70 points. He currently ranks ninth in school history in defenseman assists and points and is tied for eighth in markers.
“For the most part he’s been really dependable and reliable back there for us,” Blasi said. “He’s played a lot of minutes and a lot of games for us, and that’s what we thought we saw in the future when we were recruiting him. I would say he’s done everything that we expected him to do.”
In the Cady Arena era, Alec Martinez is the only defenseman with more goals than Caito, and Martinez has won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.
And then there’s Caito’s durablility. He has missed one game in his career at Miami, and that was the opener in 2014-15. He has played in 142 games and is just 16 shy of cracking the top 10 in team history.
For that to happen, the RedHawks need to play three postseason games, and they are guaranteed two in the best-of-3 first-round series under the NCHC format. Curtis McKenzie and Joe Hartman are currently tied for ninth all-time with 158 games played.
The statistics don’t always do responsible defensemen justice, but Caito has improved in his play across the board, from clearing pucks on the penalty kill to becoming more physical and knocking forwards entering the offensive zone around.
“I’m happy, it’s all like the simple plays and consistency is the big thing I’ve learned since being a freshman and coming in and all that,” Caito said. “Really, playing sound in my own end and making good decisions with the puck is a huge thing. And then offensively, working with Coach Blasi and Coach (Nick) Petraglia and Coach Brekke, just working on finding lanes to the net and finding guys’ sticks – simple stuff that helps you statistically over the years.”
Richart is one of his best friends on the team, and the two have been friends since coming to Oxford. The duo is nicknamed the Rock Brothers because they are so close, and both are similarly solid on defense.
“I knew (Caito) a little bit playing against him in juniors…and when I met him my visit freshman year I knew he was going to be one of the hard workers,” Richart said. “Kind of had his head on straight, and I looked up to him right when I first got here because I knew he was a good defenseman. He knew what he was talking about – defensive partner to (Steve) Spinell – so comes to the rink, works hard every day. He’s a great kid.”
Richart has seen Caito’s improvement first hand over the past four years.
“I think his all-around game defensively, always closing guys off, being tough to play against, a tough-nosed defenseman,” Richart said. “He has that offensive side to him, too, where his shot is great. He knows when to step up into the play, and he knows when to stay back, and I think (his) reading the situation has gotten a lot better with him.”
And Caito has made Williams’ life much easier in front of him with his tough defensive play.
“He’s so smart with the puck and he’s so steady, and his consistency – you know what you’re going to get,” Williams said. “Good day, bad day, whatever, he’s real steady, real even-keeled. He keeps his emotions in check, and he’s just a tremendous player.”
Caito is set to graduate this spring with a 3.0 grade-point average in sports management with a minor in economics.
His professional future appears bright. Any AHL team would be lucky to have a two-way defenseman with Caito’s talent.
But for the next couple of months, Caito is focused on completing his degree and his senior season, and he reflected on his time at Miami.
“It’s meant so much,” Caito said. “I have my best friends here – I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Just to share it with these guys is awesome. The school is beautiful, everyone around it is great, great community, great experience, and it’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”