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Boston Bred

If you're a Bruin, being a 'Boston Boy' isn't always easy. But Charlie Coyle, Matt Grzelcyk, and Chris Wagner seem to thrive on it.

by Eric Russo @erusso22 /

BOSTON - Once in a while, when the Bruins hold their pregame skates at TD Garden, the team eats lunch in a dining area that overlooks the Zakim Bridge. The room's floor-to-ceiling windows provide a splendid outlook of Boston Harbor, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the southern tip of Charlestown.

For most of the team, the Garden's surroundings don't quite hit home. Such landmarks don't resonate as much for players that hail from Stockholm, Helsinki, Edmonton, or Chicago.

But for one Bruins player, in particular, the backdrop provides a unique and enduring view.

"We get to eat some pregame meals up at the Garden sometimes," said Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, "and I can pretty much see my house from the rink, so that's pretty cool and something that I hope lasts for as long as it can."

Grzelcyk grew up a five-minute drive from Causeway Street, where his father, John, has been a member of the Garden's Bull Gang for some 50 years. The 25-year-old was always around the building and began skating on the Garden ice as a young child - experiences that, no doubt, helped shape the blue liner's path to the National Hockey League.

"It's a huge honor, something that I don't take lightly," said Grzelcyk, who was drafted by Boston in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. "I think the more and more seasons you play, the more you cherish it. Especially last year, going on as deep of a run as we did. It definitely meant a little something extra, just talking to friends and family, how much it meant to them to go on that journey with us."

And Grzelcyk isn't the only member of the Black & Gold that is suiting up for his hometown team. While their childhood homes are a bit farther from the shadows of TD Garden, instead tucked neatly in the southern suburbs, forwards Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner are also living out their childhood dreams of donning the Spoked-B.

"It's just awesome to have your family pretty much at every game and your friends at the games they can make. You can really feel the support because everyone's watching the games at home, too," said Wagner, who grew up roughly 30 miles south of the city in Walpole, Mass.

"If you do something well, you get the 'congrats' or 'great job.' Then on the off days you get to see people outside of the rink that you wouldn't normally be able to see [if you were] playing in a different state or something. A combination of all of those things makes it really great."

Coyle, meanwhile, hails from the hockey hotbed of Weymouth, Mass., where he is one of a handful of native sons to make it to the National Hockey League - including winger Paul Carey, who played two games for Boston last season.

"It's very special because you get to basically work from home, right?" said Coyle. "You're with your family…they love it, they love making the trek in and going through the ups and downs of the season. Especially with the run we had last year, it made it that much more special that my family was there almost every night, if not every night. So just to do that, you feel very fortunate to be in that position."

The 2019-20 season will mark Coyle's first full campaign back home after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild - in exchange for Scituate, Mass., native Ryan Donato - just before last February's trade deadline. After spending the first six-plus seasons of his NHL career with the Wild, it has taken the former first-round pick some time to get adjusted to a new team, a process that was buoyed by Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Final - as well as the daily support from his friends and family.

"I've been away for six or seven years," said Coyle, who also played for Weymouth High School, Thayer Academy, the South Shore Kings, and Boston University on his way to the NHL. "Obviously they're supporting you from afar, they're watching on TV, but they could only make a few trips out - you don't see your family as much. Just to be home, be around them…you miss so much with your family, cousins, everything….whether it's a holiday or just everyday life."

On its face, playing for the hometown team, with all of your loved ones nearby, sounds like the ideal scenario. But it is not for everyone. The distractions and burdens that come with being a "Boston Boy" can sometimes be a drag that creates added pressure to perform. This particular trio, however, seems to thrive on it.

"Honestly, sure there are [distractions]…but I'm always surrounded by good people who try not to bother me as much as they can," said Grzelcyk, who also played four seasons at Boston University. "I've only found it to be a positive experience. I know some people in the past have talked about a desire to get away from their family and friends asking for tickets, things like that. But I've always had good people in my corner, so I've never had to worry about it."

Heading into his second year with the Black & Gold, Wagner believes that he now has an even better grasp on how to deal with those outside asks, whether it be ticket requests, local appearances, or casual outings with loved ones.

"I think they're kind of nice distractions in a way," said Wagner, who scored in his first game at TD Garden as a Bruin last October. "I think people - especially more this year, probably - understand what we're going through, too, and that it's my job to be ready to play and practice. I think as long as you have a healthy balance, I don't think it's an issue at all."

When he arrived in Boston last spring, Coyle consulted with Wagner and Grzelcyk to get their thoughts on how to navigate the noise. Ultimately, Coyle learned, it comes down to the people around him understanding the job he has to do - on and off the ice.

"I think we have enough people and resources around that can help you with that stuff," said Coyle. "There's people who ask for tickets - they're just excited about me playing here and being close to everyone again…so, you have those little things, but I think people start to realize and it smooths over as it kind of goes on after a little bit. My family, for the most part, kind of takes care of the ticket deal. We have a lot of people who help with those distractions."

With those resources in place, Coyle can focus all of his energy on the ice, which has translated into plenty of success. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound center was, perhaps, Boston's best player during the postseason, notching 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 24 games - including three goals and an assist in the Stanley Cup Final.

To this point in their Bruins careers, all three local products have emerged as integral pieces of the roster, having performed at a high level since their arrivals. During his first season in Boston, Wagner set career highs in points (19) and goals (12), while becoming a vital part of the B's fourth line. Likewise, Grzelcyk has established himself as a dependable two-way defenseman, while staking claim to the left side on Boston's third pairing.

"You want to play well…you always want to play well no matter where you are," said Coyle. "But you're in front of family and friends and more people are watching….it just depends, it's all about mindset. You can put pressure on yourself…but I just think the people who are close to me, my family and friends, all of that support I had growing up before I even played professional…I keep those people tight, and I think that's the best way to go about it."

Grzelcyk does, too. Though, at times, he believes it's best to tune them all out.

"I really don't think about it," said Grzelcyk. "I still to this day - same thing in college - I have no idea where my parents sit during a game because I just don't want to let my mind wander. I think you just try to go into it not thinking about it. I played a lot of games [at TD Garden] in college, so maybe that helps. I think wherever you play, it's still the same game."

But through it all, the Bruins' three Boston Boys realize how fortunate they are to be part of such an exclusive club.

"I try a little bit [to soak it all in]," said Coyle. "It's still - I don't know the word - tough or weird to do. You don't fully realize it…I don't think even yet. But every now and then, little things come up and you start to think about it more and more. I think it sinks in a little bit more. It's still just a really cool feeling.

"You feel very fortunate to be in the position you are, to be in the locker room with these guys and this team and be able to learn from them and do it all at home. It's very, very special."

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