MONTREAL – Sixty miles is all that separated the Pateryns' former home in Sterling Heights from Ann Arbor, MI.
That meant that George Pateryn and his wife, Jenny, enjoyed a treat few parents are privy to when their son or daughter heads off to college to pursue their athletic dreams.
Between 2008 and 2012, they didn’t have to travel far at all to see their son, Greg, ply his trade at the University of Michigan for legendary bench boss and former Habs forward Red Berenson. It was there that the Canadiens’ No. 6 would learn the intricacies of the game that would eventually help him reach the NHL ranks on a full-time basis.
|George Pateryn accompanied Greg on the Canadiens' Fathers Trip this past November to Pittsburgh, experiencing life on the road with his son. |
“One of the things that we were very excited about was being able to see his progress and his development in hockey with the Wolverines over the course of four years. I think Greg was very fortunate to have somebody like Red as his mentor, somebody to coach him and guide him through the process of becoming a dependable defenseman,” said Mr. Pateryn, who now calls Ann Arbor home after watching Greg suit up for 142 games with the maize and blue.
“As a hockey player, the road is never easy. But, it was cool to see Greg finish his time there very strong. His last year was a significant leap in his ability to perform and help lead the team. It was very gratifying from that standpoint,” added Mr. Pateryn, referencing Greg being awarded the University of Michigan’s Vic Heyliger Award as the Wolverines’ most outstanding rearguard in his senior year.
Greg doesn’t reside that close to home now, but George is certainly enjoying what he’s seen his son accomplish from afar in recent years, most notably over the last two seasons. After coming on strong during the Canadiens’ playoff run in 2014-15, Greg secured a roster spot this past season and played a career-high 38 games with Michel Therrien’s troops, including 27 straight outings to wrap up the year dating back to February 12. That’s even more significant when you consider that he’d played just 20 games with the big club in the previous three years combined.
“It’s just been very exciting. As a parent, I’m very proud of what he’s been able to accomplish with hard work, determination and a real love for the game. It’s been nice watching him flourish and get better every year,” said Mr. Pateryn, who has seen his son steadily improve in several key facets of his game under the tutelage of former defensemen like Therrien, Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Sylvain Lefebvre, among other key instructors in the Canadiens organization.
“You really get the sense that he knows where he needs to be on the ice. He doesn’t want to be caught out of position. He’s very mindful of that. I think he’s gotten a lot smarter in the way he plays the game, and that’s instilled a tremendous amount of confidence in him. It’s also been pretty exciting watching him leverage his size and frame out there, too,” added Mr. Pateryn, who clearly appreciates Greg’s willingness to throw his weight around in the form of 150 hits through 58 career regular-season games with the Canadiens.
|Landing in Pittsburgh to share some quality time together during the long 82-game regular-season campaign. |
Long before Greg would patrol the blue line in Ann Arbor and Montreal, though, George recalls never really putting any significant pressure on the future fifth-round pick to make hockey his calling. Greg was a gifted young athlete with talents that extended beyond the local rink, too. While he eventually chose to pursue hockey at the collegiate level after three years at Brother Rice High School and a one-year stint with the USHL’s Ohio Junior Blue Jackets, Greg also had other options to consider.
“Playing pro isn’t something we ever tried to drive or encouraged. It was always up to him to decide where he wanted to take this and what he wanted to be. We actually took him out of travel hockey before he went to high school to do other things. Just as an example, Greg’s actually very good at lacrosse. He was being pursued by schools for lacrosse scholarships. Playing hockey, though, was what he wanted,” said Mr. Pateryn, who isn’t at all surprised that Greg ended up choosing hockey over lacrosse when it came time to commit to it for good.
“I remember taking him out to learn how to skate [at Belle Tire Ice Arena in Fraser, MI]. In one of those skating classes, one of the coaches came up and asked Greg if he’d like to try out for the hockey team they had there. Greg’s face just lit up. It was so great to see how excited he was about it. We always left it up to our kids to figure out what they wanted to do and go after their passions and desires. Whatever came out of it was what they were destined to be,” continued Mr. Pateryn, who also has two daughters – Elizabeth – a physician assistant in surgery in Chicago – and Hanna – a soon-to-be graduate of Northern Kentucky University where she played soccer for four years.
Back in December, the significance of Greg’s accomplishments really hit home when he made his first-ever NHL appearance at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on December 10. Looking on from the stands, the Pateryns soaked in every minute of seeing their son go up against his childhood team on home turf.
“It was an unbelievable experience for all of us. He played in so many tournament games in college and in minor league hockey at Joe Louis Arena, so he knows that place really well. He’s had a lot of success there over the years. We had a number of family and friends there. Just as I walked through the crowd, I saw so many people who knew us and came by to congratulate us on Greg’s accomplishments and success. It was just tremendous to be able to watch him play there,” said Mr. Pateryn, recalling Greg playing in the annual Great Lakes Invitational events in late December while still at Michigan, in addition to games against rival Michigan State University and the likes of fellow Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry and Boston Bruins standout Torey Krug.
|George and Jenny were on site at Joe Louis Arena when Greg and the Canadiens battled the Detroit Red Wings on December 10. |
Come July 2, the Pateryns will have another reason to come together and celebrate as Greg and his fiancée Stefani tie the knot in Southern California ahead of what should be a very big year for the Michigan alum in Montreal. George is adamant, though, that his son has the requisite skill set to be a model citizen both on and off the ice.
“Just seeing the consistency in his play, I think he’s established himself as an NHL defenseman already. That’s a pretty big accomplishment in and of itself. There’s probably a lot more that people haven’t seen of Greg yet. I’ve seen it in the past. No matter the circumstances, he’s a guy who never gives up, never quits on anything. He’s always been a student of whatever he did. For him, it’s always been – ‘How do I do better? How do I learn more?’ That’s one of his best qualities as a human being,” concluded Mr. Pateryn, who clearly has a great deal of admiration for his son on a number of levels. “I also appreciate his approach to life, his gentleness, his kindness, his compassion for others. I’m very proud of what I see in him and the decisions that he makes. I’m just very excited that he’s found somebody that makes him so happy. As a parent, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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