MONTREAL – Even as a youngster, Greg Pateryn didn’t shy away from throwing his weight around.
While plying his trade in Michigan’s minor hockey ranks, the now 25-year-old Sterling Heights native quickly developed a penchant for physical play that impressed both his teammates and his former bench boss, Kyle Krug, too.
“Greg was always a very, very tough kid, even though he wasn’t overly big at the time. He was a bruiser. He always had the ability to deliver big hits, though, and those hits could really fire up the whole team. He had a warrior mentality. I love that about a hockey player,” praised Krug, who coached the Canadiens’ No. 6 with the Michigan Ice Dogs Atom AAA and HoneyBaked Hockey Club Pee Wee AAA squads in the early 2000s. “That’s really what made him so important to our group. Our biggest competition at the time was the Markham Waxers with players like Steven Stamkos and Cody Hodgson. They were probably our biggest rivals. Our guys fed off big hits in those games, and all our guys then tried to outdo each other by making an even bigger hit than the one before or by scoring a big goal. We were definitely a team that you didn’t really want to play against because of gritty players who’d dig in like Greg.”
Nevertheless, Pateryn’s overall game needed some serious fine-tuning early on, so much so that Krug was actually skeptical about whether or not the rugged defenseman had the necessary ingredients to move up the ranks and pursue a professional hockey career down the road.
“He wasn’t necessarily the best player on our roster. I’ll tell you that. Overall, we had the best teams in Detroit at the time [at both of those levels]. As far as Detroit-based players were concerned, he was above average, but on our team he was below average. I just think the biggest thing with him [that needed improvement] was skating,” confided Krug, whose son, Torey, also donned the colors of the Ice Dogs and HoneyBaked Hockey Club at the time, and now patrols the blue line for the Boston Bruins. “He just didn’t have it offensively. He wasn’t going end-to-end with the puck. That’s for sure. He really was one of the kids that I never expected to play NCAA Division I hockey, let alone make it to the National Hockey League.”
But, according to Krug, Pateryn had an exceptionally good head on his shoulders. That ultimately enabled him to make significant strides both on and off the ice.
“He was really smart as a kid. He paid a lot of attention to detail. He was very cerebral, and he really wanted to learn. I remember one time Greg had a birthday party, and he had the whole team go over to this place I used to work at that made vehicles for the United States military. He was a kid who always wanted to do something from a history perspective. In his case, everything was geared around education, including hockey,” shared Krug, who watched Pateryn make significant progress under his direction with every passing season. “From Atom to Pee Wee, his first pass was continuously getting better. Puck handling and skating were improving. Those elements of his game just kept on growing.”
It wasn’t until a few years later, though, that Krug saw first-hand just how far his former pupil had come in his bid to elevate his game even further.
“After I’d coached him in Atom and Pee Wee, Greg eventually went on to play high school hockey at Brother Rice in Michigan. He called me up in his Junior year in 2006-07 and said – ‘Coach, I’m getting ready for this All-American tournament. Can I come by and skate with you?’ I guess I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years at that point, so when he showed up looking like a monster of a kid, I was a little surprised,” recalled Krug with a laugh. “I couldn’t believe how he’d changed. It was kind of shocking because his dad isn’t like that at all. I was very impressed. He was like a man-child.”
Pateryn served as the Warriors’ team captain that year and earned All-State honors, before taking his imposing size and stature to the USHL for one season. There, as a member of the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets, he amassed a team-leading 145 penalty minutes and led all defensemen with 27 points in 60 games. That led to Pateryn being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, mere months prior to beginning a four-year stay at the University of Michigan where he was reunited with former minor hockey teammates David Wohlberg and Robbie Czarnik.
“I remember when Greg and Torey [who played at Michigan State] went up against each other in college. I might’ve been paying more attention to the way my son was playing in those games than anything else, but those hits Greg put on MSU forwards were memorable. He put some pretty good licks on some kids over the years,” offered Krug, who was pleased to see things come together for Pateryn in Ann Arbor. “I knew that if he continued to play mean like that, mean like the way he’d played as a kid, he was going to get a shot. He had the size. He had the physical presence. His physicality is what was going to carry him over the top. I think that held true.”
That was certainly evident this past season, as Pateryn completed his third campaign in the pros. Despite spending the majority of 2014-15 in Hamilton, he took full advantage of every opportunity to sport the CH to prove to the Canadiens’ brass that he belonged with the big club on a full-time basis.
“I get chills when I think about what Greg has achieved. I couldn’t have imagined any of it. It’s incredible. I think his success goes all the way back to his hockey foundation, whether it was me, another coach, or his parents. They’re incredible people. Both are extremely goal-driven and intelligent people themselves,” concluded Krug, who firmly believes Pateryn will continue his ascent up the Canadiens’ depth chart every year. “It’s funny how young kids turn into men. I just shake my head. There were three kids from the Detroit area who nobody, including myself, would have thought were bound for the NHL. There was Greg, Torey and [Red Wings defenseman] Danny DeKeyser. Nobody would have given them even a sniff at the National Hockey League way back when. But, they all showed us in the end. The desire to succeed is what separated them from the pack. Their compete levels are off the charts.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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