By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Even though Matt Gilroy grew up no more than 20 or so miles from Madison Square Garden, he had never attended a Rangers’ home game until Wednesday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series vs. Washington.
Not a bad choice for your first hockey game at MSG.
|Matt Gilroy's remarkable 2008-09 college hockey season included this celebration with Boston University fans after winning Beanpot Tournament championship. |
Of course Gilroy, the 2009 Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player who signed a pro contract with the Rangers last weekend, is hoping that he becomes much better acquainted with The Garden in the not-so-distant future.
“My dad played St. John’s basketball, and (MSG) was his home place for college basketball, and he would always tell us stories of The Garden being packed,” explained Gilroy, a North Bellmore, N.Y., native, during a press conference prior to Wednesday’s game.
“I actually have never been to a Rangers’ game because I grew up a mile from the (Nassau) Coliseum so I used to go to Islanders games. But this arena, and the prestige of wearing the Rangers’ blue uniform, is unbelievable.”
A self-proclaimed “late-bloomer”, Gilroy was not selected in the NHL Entry Draft and, thus, was a free agent after completing his stellar collegiate career at Boston University two weeks ago.
There were many teams interested in signing the 24 year-old defenseman after he completed his senior year in high-style, winning the Hobey Baker and then helping to lead BU to the NCAA National Championship.
Gilroy and his advisors -- which included his parents -- quickly trimmed the teams he would consider signing with to three. From there, the opportunity to play in New York, along with a little recruitment from Rangers’ captain Chris Drury and head coach John Tortorella, convinced Gilroy to stay home to begin his professional hockey career.
“(Chris) gave me a call and just told me what it was like to be a Ranger,” Gilroy said of Drury, who also won a national title and the Hobey Baker Award while attending Boston University in the 1990s.
“He told me, ‘Matty, I have been all over the NHL in different cities and there is nothing like being a New York Ranger.’ Hearing that from him, someone I believe in and trust, and I grew up idolizing going to BU, means a lot.”
Tortorella also made a phone call in attempt to woo Gilroy to Broadway. But it was not the first contact the two have ever had.
Last spring, Tortorella -- who at the time was without a head coaching job in the NHL -- coached the United States entry in the World Championships. One of his players was star collegiate defenseman Gilroy.
The intense and fiery head coach made a quick and lasting impression on young Gilroy.
“I remember skating with him at the Worlds, and the first day of practice he’s screaming at Patrick Kane and (Zach) Parise, and I’m like Jeez, this guy is honest,” said Gilroy. “His honesty, and the fact that he’s full of passion, draws me right to him.”
A walk-on as a freshman at BU, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Gilroy, played in 160 games for the Terriers, registering 25 goals, 67 assists, and 92 points. He was a two-time First Team All-American, and was the first defenseman in Hockey East history to earn First Team All-Star honors three times.
This past season, Gilroy captained Boston University to both the Hockey East regular season and playoff championships, before the Terriers grabbed their fifth NCAA title.
“My parents told me to always believe in myself and go after it; and I spent boatloads of my dad’s money because he had to pay for me to go to college, so hopefully I can give that back to them,” Gilroy said.
“They taught us to be hard workers, and that’s what they instilled in me since I was a little kid, since I would get cut from peewee teams. I give all the credit to them.”
Gilroy plans to work extensively this summer at the MSG Training Center in Westchester to prepare for his first NHL training camp next September. He will be one of a number of talented young defensemen in camp, which bodes well for the Rangers’ future on the backline.Marc Staal
and Dan Girardi
are both playing for the varsity and are under the age of 25. Bobby Sanguinetti and Corey Potter are key prospects, both of whom matured while playing at AHL Hartford this past season. And Michael Del Zotto
, the club’s first-round pick in the 2008 draft is coming off a strong year in junior.
So what will set Gilroy apart from the other young defensemen next fall?
“Skating has been my strength since I was a little kid, and offensively in transition is where, hopefully, I can excel with coach Tortorella,” said the personable Gilroy.
As for witnessing his first game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Gilroy was able to take in the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist
, the intensity of an NHL playoff series, the passion and full-throated roar of The Garden Faithful at their spring-time best, and an inspiring performance from his BU idol, Drury.
“This was a pretty good example of what it can be like here, and a pretty good game for him to watch,” said Drury after Wednesday’s 2-1 victory. “I know he’s a local kid, so to come to The Garden on a night like this, being a Ranger and having the fans respond to us like they have during the playoffs, there’s no feeling like it. It’s good for him to see.”