Personal Best: Teen hockey player takes game to pro ranks

Claiming the credit for older son Mattia’s ice hockey talent is fodder for friendly debate in the Bortolotto household in San Mateo.

Dad Gary, a San Mateo native, played semi-professional hockey for the Fresno Falcons. Mom Sandra is a native of Ontario, Canada.

The gloves don’t drop, though, as they playfully argue whether it was Gary’s hockey experience or Sandra’s bloodline that contributed to Mattia’s prowess on the ice. The 16-year-old Serra High School junior recently signed a five-year contract to play in the Western Hockey League.

Next season, Bortolotto will be spending his senior year of high school playing semi-professional hockey for the Cougars in the Canadian town of Prince George.

He is the first 16-year-old American to sign with the Cougars, a team with only one player from the United States on this year’s roster.

Currently in his second season playing on the Junior Sharks under-18 AAA team, Bortolotto declined an offer last year, when he was 15, to be drafted by the Seattle franchise of the WHL.

He and his parents felt that another year of home cooking was needed before sending the boy north. They collectively feel confident that he’s now ready.

“I want to play higher hockey. I’m tired of being the person on top,” Bortolotto said. “When you’re on top, not many people like you because of jealousy. This league will be a big step, a lot of hard work, but it’ll be great.”

Bortolotto’s coach with the Junior Sharks agrees.

“This is a great opportunity for Mattia,” coach Tony Zasowski said. “The WHL consistently produces NHL draft picks. This is one step closer for Mattia by signing and getting a chance to compete at that level.”

Zasowski will certainly miss his star defenseman, the team’s “quarterback,” whose strengths are strong skating, stick handling and “doing his job” on the ice by “keeping things simple.”

The coach also mentioned “feistiness” as one of Bortolotto’s assets on the ice. 

“I never give up. I’m always causing trouble on the ice,” Bortolotto said. “If someone gives me a tap, I’ll turn around and give him a tap back. I don’t back down from anything. I’m always up for the challenge.”

That’s the right attitude to have as Bortolotto prepares to invade our neighbors to the north, playing their game on their ice.

Bortolotto realizes that he’ll miss his parents, his friends at Serra and his girlfriend Alexis. It will also be hard to part with perhaps his biggest fan, younger brother Nicholas. The 12-year-old is also a Junior Shark, coached by his dad, who would like nothing better than to one day follow his brother’s path to Prince George.

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