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Matthew Tkachuk Is My Beloved American Girl Doll

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 20: Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers looks on after a fight against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 20, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He's kind of holding hands with the ref that's carting him away
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The other day, I tried to tell my friend that Matthew Tkachuk has American Girl doll teeth. My friend is a guy, and he’s never had the privilege of engaging in imaginative play with overpriced 18-inch dolls, so obviously he had no idea what I was talking about. He googled Tkachuk, looking for a picture of his teeth.

“Uh, his mouth is closed in all of these,” my friend said. I laughed, darkly. Then I swiped to the albums tab on my phone’s photo app. 

“Trust,” I said. “I definitely have a picture saved for reference.”

Despite my allegiance to another hockey team a little west of Sunrise, Florida, I have a soft spot for Matthew Tkachuk. I don’t know what it is, and I wouldn’t describe it as a crush, but something about that rat speaks directly to my soul. Perhaps it’s because he, too, is the eldest child in his family, a position I know well given that I am a whole two minutes older than my only sibling. Or maybe his American Girl doll teeth (referring to the little gap between his incisors, which said dolls also have) simply remind me of my childhood.

I know my love for Tkachuk is extremely controversial, because he’s kind of annoying and one of the most hated players in the league, as statistically proven by this poll. Most of the time, when I confess to my hockey-watching friends my appreciation for Ratthew, the response is something along the lines of “I HAAAAAAATE HIM,” which, OK. Valid.

But you know what? I kind of like that he’s fucked up, and I believe all of us deserve a little ratty bastard to cherish and water. He’s definitely had to learn how to be the right kind of pest, but the great thing for you, prospective Panthers bandwagoner, is that Tkachuk has reached that sweet spot where you can want him for your own team, even if he sucks to play against. These days, he's still looking to sneak punches after the whistle, but now his value as a two-way player proves him to be more than just a heel. Matthew Tkachuk is, unfortunately or fortunately, quite fun to watch, and it’s good that he’s entertaining off the ice, too, so there's never really an offseason.

Despite hockey being one of the very few sports where it is (kind of) acceptable to start walloping someone from the other team, its establishment seems very insistent on pushing a narrative that this is a “gentlemanly” game. There’s an old vanguard that revels in the idea that even the biggest players in hockey, like Connor McDavid, aren’t really celebrities beyond the main circle of NHL fans, as if that’s some sort of marker of moral superiority and purity of athleticism. To that, I say boooooo. Maybe it’s because I moved from Michigan to New York, but I often worry that hockey fandom is shrinking, for a variety of reasons. As much as you might despise him, I think someone who lives for causing drama (see: single-handedly reigniting the Battle of Alberta) is good for the game.

In between that drama, there are other wonderful bits about Matthew to appreciate. I like that he’s constantly upstaged by his brother, Brady, in big moments of his life. When his younger sister, Taryn, was playing in the Missouri state championship game for field hockey, he got so nervous that he hid by some bushes, only to come running out of the trees and over the fences onto the field when his sister scored the game-winning goal in overtime. Isn’t that charming? And as an NHL nepo baby, there's a bountifulness of pictures from his childhood where he's posed against players that he's now terrorized as an adult. Best of all, his mouthguard is never actually in his mouth (as memorialized in his bobblehead), And while that is, unfortunately, a threat to his American Girl doll teeth, I know that he's likely inspiring a new generation of children playing hockey to risk their dental health, too. I can already imagine the coaches yelling at the rat tweens. May they be blessed in their pursuit of chaos against all their enemies.

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