I never met Matt Wuest in person, but we had intended to at some point. We had talked on email starting back in 2009 and, later, on Twitter DMs all the time. Probably at least once every week or two.
After a while of doing that, you feel like you know someone.
Getting the news of his death
on Thursday was tough, as he was a young, talented and decent man.
We also had a lot in common.
Matt was also, like me, a young sportswriter
, one who loved junior hockey and who did some scouting in the QMJHL for McKeen's Hockey (one of my first jobs was doing the same in the WHL). He was also a freelancer with The Hockey News, something I also did early in my career.
Often my emails to him over the years were simply requests for obscure information. One year I did a story on Jamie McGinn
getting sent down and recalled over and over and over again, and Matt provided a list of the players recalled the most that season (McGinn was first, with 14 recalls by mid-March).
No one else had that kind of data, that fast. No one else was as prompt or willing to help, either.
And if Matt ever needed to clarify something, especially with the Leafs, he would often touch base, and I was happy to help.
On an under-reported story like this
, on how much the Blackhawks exceeded the cap due to bonuses, we worked together to try and nail down as many details as possible. I got a decent story out of it, and Matt got accurate info for his site, which was what he always wanted.
In August last year, he talked about wanting to build an analytics-based replacement for extraskater.com when it went dark, and I provided him with what I knew about scraping data from NHL.com and how things like quality of competition were calculated.
I know he put some serious groundwork into that potential new wing of the site, and had it launched, it would have been another terrific resource.
"It won't be anywhere close to as good as ES, but it will help fill the void for a while," he said at one point. "And maybe can grow into more over time."
"I believe in you!" I joked.
I always felt bad Matt was never rewarded more for what CapGeek became, especially after learning of his illness. He may have made a little money off of it from the ads on the site, but given the time he invested, it wasn't nearly enough.
And there were big companies interested in buying it. He always resisted, even when he couldn't run it anymore.
I think that he took pride that it was something he had built from scratch, including all of the sources he had for the data, and didn't want to just hand it over to a major media company to meddle with and ruin.
The last time I talked to Matt was in January, after news of his illness came out publicly. I gave him my cell number and told him to touch base anytime. I wanted to help him out, perhaps even to pass the site on to a buyer, so that he and his family could benefit. I also thought (foolishly) about maybe trying to maintain it myself, somehow, until he was well.
But this was how he wanted it, and I respect that. We all should.
As an aside, there's no making sense of someone dying like this. People will try, but at his age, it's simply a tragedy that couldn't be avoided. He didn't miss a test. He didn't deserve this. My family lived through something similar when my mother got cancer when she was only 39, and I was still in grade school. Thankfully, she beat it (twice) and was here to meet her grandson last week.
Matt deserved an ending like that. His family did, too.
Here's hoping that, at some point, when a new site launches with similar info, it'll be dedicated in his honour. Maybe even the league will start it?
I hope so.
RIP my friend. Thanks for your help. We didn't meet, but I know you were a gem.