Troy Grosenick was just a toddler growing up in Milwaukee when an Admirals player handed him a broken hockey stick during a game. That piece of lumber had become trash for that player, but for a young aspiring goaltender, it was gold.
Now that he minds the net for his hometown team - the first player ever born and raised in Milwaukee to suit up for the Ads - Grosenick has the opportunity to make that same impact on those with their faces pressed up against the glass during warm-ups, hoping for just a glance of their heroes.
Grosenick has never forgotten that first gift as a child, and it's inspired him to do the same, and so much more.
Thanks to his efforts to give back to his community, the Brookfield, Wisconsin, native has been named the recipient of the AHL's 2019-20 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, honoring the overall IOA/American Specialty Man of the Year.
It's a humbling accolade for Grosenick, who has always viewed the community service aspect of playing hockey for a living as not just part of the deal, but a passion, especially now that he's back where it all began.
"Community service isn't something that you do for recognition, it's something that you do to give back," Grosenick said. "Especially in the Milwaukee community growing up, there are things that have been provided to me growing up and really influenced me as the person I've become. There are a lot of small things I can do to help try to make a difference and pay it forward for all the great mentors that I had growing up in that community. Whether it's kids playing hockey or underprivileged kids or kids going through a hard time with cancer and other illnesses, it's really important and really special to me."
Grosenick hasn't had one overarching moment over his time playing hockey he would point to that showed him the importance of community service. Instead, the values instilled in him as a youth player in Milwaukee have carried him all the way through college and into the professional ranks, always finding ways to improve the lives of those around him.
When he returned home thanks to a contract with the Admirals two seasons ago, Grosenick's desire to give back grew even larger, and for good reason.
"Hockey players are going to be pretty involved in the community wherever you may be, but being back in my hometown made it that much more special," Grosenick said. "When you go out to youth hockey practices and stuff like that, you see little kids that remind you of what you were like in that age and playing for the love of the game. There's just so many common bonds when you grew up in the same community, and it's just really neat to get out and see those kids and be able to give them a second of your time and hopefully help them out with whatever they're going through."
Whether it's been on the ice, at the hospital or anywhere in between, Grosenick hasn't had any difficulty finding fellow Milwaukeeans to impact.
Grosenick pledged $1 from every save he made this season to the MACC Fund, and he asked fans to pledge their support for the MACC Fund as well at whatever level they could. Grosenick is also proud of the Admirable Teammate program that he led, along with fellow goaltender Connor Ingram. The program encouraged kids, specifically youth hockey players, to be Admirable Teammates and also to submit examples of kids on their teams who are Admirable Teammates.
"We wanted to focus not so much on how good your stat line is, but how well you treat your teammates," Grosenick said of the program. "Everyone knows in hockey being a good teammate goes a long way, and we just wanted to encourage kids to not only be good teammates, but to speak up and tell us about teammates on their team that were doing the same."
Grosenick has also worked with the Milwaukee Fire Department to help distribute winter coats to underprivileged children, and he served dinner with his teammates as a waiter at the Prevent Blindness of Wisconsin Celebrity Waiters Event.
The goaltender has made numerous visits to local rinks to work with youth hockey participants, including Elmbrook Youth Hockey and the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals, both programs that he participated in as a child. He was also one of the players who volunteered to help deliver presents to the Ronald McDonald House of Southeastern Wisconsin.
He served as the Admirals "Locker Room Ambassador," giving tours and autographs to children and their families after many games this season, and he even jumped into a frozen lake for the Polar Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics of Wisconsin.
"It was cold," Grosenick laughed when recalling the plunge. "But the Special Olympics is an awesome organization… and I think there's a lot that we can learn from their athletes. It might not look like they have all the advantages we have, but their internal determination and perseverance is something that everybody can strive for, so I'm just happy that we could support an organization like that."
Grosenick also did his part at his position over the past seven months by helping the Admirals to the AHL's best record before the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Grosenick would prefer to be preparing for a playoff game with his Milwaukee teammates, the recognition from the AHL in this regard is special, even though he wasn't looking for it.
Grosenick has come a long way since that night in the early 90s when he went home with a broken twig, and it taught him how much a simple gesture of kindness can impact the next generation.
"It's awesome to see a kid light up like that, and it puts a smile on your face too," Grosenick said. "There's just so many great mentors I had growing up, and being able to pay it forward is important to me. We can tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves as hockey players and fans can get really emotional about games and whatnot. I think when you get out in the community and see what some of these kids are going through, there's a sense of brevity and you have that compassion and kind of levels you out a little bit more.
"Sometimes things might not go your way, but at the end of the day, you're living your dream and you're playing a game for your profession. There are people that don't have that, and you should be thankful for it and give back what you can. All in all, you just try to make people's lives better."