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ESPN’s Emily Kaplan Takes Readers Inside Her Auston Matthews Cover Story

"The sacrifices Auston's parents made and the support they gave their son to help see him succeed really resonated with me."

Auston Matthews, center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, photographed Sept. 29 in Toronto.
(Marcus Eriksson for ESPN)

This week ESPN debuted its October edition of Cover Story featuring Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (Read | Watch).

(Marcus Eriksson for ESPN)

In the piece, ESPN’S National NHL reporter Emily Kaplan chronicles Matthews’ unconventional journey to the NHL, his family’s critical support and influence, his friendship with Justin Bieber, and the desire to bring Toronto its first Stanley Cup in more than 50 years.

From launching NFTs to commissioning his equipment partner, CCM, to make a handful of custom skates that he plans to debut for games, Matthews isn’t satisfied to follow the same old playbook to NHL stardom and has achieved a level of celebrity that few players in the sport ever have.

Kaplan shares an inside look at the story on the NHL’s potential transcendent celebrity.

What was the process for setting up the interview?
When we found out that the NHL was returning to ESPN, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to feature a hockey player on Cover Story. My editor, Rachel Ullrich, and E60 producer John Minton, discussed a few different players that would be great options.

Ultimately we decided that Auston – and his uniquely American hockey story – would be a great fit for the franchise. We approached Auston’s representatives during the Stanley Cup playoffs to propose the idea. Once we mentioned this would be the first time an NHL player would be featured with the Cover Story treatment, they were just as excited as we were.

What’s your favorite quote or behind-the-scenes moment that didn’t make the final piece?
Auston had some funky art at his apartment, including a robot in the desert who is riding a horse, painting her toenails, wearing heels, and holding a glass of scotch. The longer you look at it, the more details you notice.

What was the biggest takeaway from your conversation?
I was impressed by the sense of gratitude Auston had, which felt special for someone that young. The sacrifices Auston’s parents made and the support they gave their son to help see him succeed really resonated with me. The anecdote Auston gave about his mom, working two jobs, and putting 20 dollars into his account just so he could “get Chipotle with the boys” was one I’ll always remember.

How was Cover Story different from other stories you’ve worked on?
Lots of cooks in the kitchen, but in the best way! It felt like nearly every department of ESPN editorial was part of this project. That’s what happens when you have a truly multi-platform presentation, and I’m so grateful for the collaboration. Sometimes having too many cooks can have a negative connotation, but it was cool to see so many people come together for one project.

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