Matt Grzelcyk Comes Full Circle in Pursuit of Dream to Play for Hometown Bruins


Jun 30, 2012

Matt Grzelcyk Comes Full Circle in Pursuit of Dream to Play for Hometown BruinsWILMINGTON, Mass. — Matt Grzelcyk had big dreams but a small frame.

He learned early on in his hockey career that taking the most direct route might not be the best approach for him. He applied that on the ice, where his speed and shiftiness can overcome his size disadvantage. And he applied it off the ice, where the defenseman's journey from his home in Charlestown to his goal of playing in Boston had to take a rather large detour through Ann Arbor, Mich.

That's the home of the USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, where Grzelcyk has spent the past two seasons. He honed his skills well enough in Michigan to earn a double homecoming, accepting a scholarship to Boston University and being picked by the Bruins in the third round of last week's NHL Entry Draft.

"It's awesome," Grzelcyk said after Saturday's double session of power-skating drills and practice at the Bruins development camp at Ristuccia Arena. "It's something you always dream about. I'm just blessed to be here."

But getting back to Boston and having the opportunity to pull on a Bruins sweater required leaving home at 16. It wasn't easy to be separated from his friends and family, but it was a sacrifice Grzelcyk was willing to make to pursue his hockey dreams.

"I'm still really small but I was even smaller back then, so I figured I really needed the development," Grzelcyk said. "When I got the opportunity to go out there, I just couldn't say no."

Grzelcyk, who now checks in at 5-foot-9, 171 pounds, took full advantage of the program's offerings to grow both his body and his game.

"It really helped me mature, living away from my parents and everything like that," Grzelcyk said. "I definitely became mentally and physically stronger."

But now he's ready to come back to Boston. "I figured I did my time away, so it's nice to finally return home," Grzelcyk said.

The homecoming still feels a little surreal to Grzelcyk, despite the fact that he's probably spent more time in the Garden than most of the current members of the Bruins varsity.

"I haven't had time to let it sink in, but it's been really cool," Grzelcyk said. "We had dinner over at the Garden [Friday] night and I kind of knew where everything was. It was kind of funny just to look back on it."

Grzelcyk knows all the nooks and crannies of the TD Garden because his father, John, has been a member of the Garden bull gang for the past four decades. "He's over there more than he's at home," Grzelcyk joked.

Grzelcyk was born on Jan. 5, 1994, less than two years before the old Garden closed its doors forever with the "Last Hurrah" on Sept. 25, 1995. But Grzelcyk still found a way to put his tiny skates on that hallowed ice before the building was closed.

"One of my first years when I just started skating he brought me over to the old Garden, so I got to skate on the old Garden ice," said Grzelcyk, whose visits to the new Garden continued throughout his childhood. "He brought me over there as much as he could."

Now in a few years Grzelcyk may get a chance to skate on the ice his father helps set up, this time with a Bruins jersey on. "I hope so," Grzelcyk said, smiling at the added pressure of trying to make it to the NHL before his dad puts in his retirement papers.

That seemed like a long shot just a few years ago before he traveled out to Michigan. Even last week Grzelcyk doubted he would get picked and almost didn't even attend the draft in Pittsburgh.

"Because of my size and everything I wasn't expecting to go early at all, so when I heard my name called I was really surprised," Grzelcyk said. "I couldn't be happier. For a long time I didn't want to go because I really didn't know if I was going to be picked at all. It came down to wanting to support my friends that were going and I figured it's only going to happen once, so might as well enjoy it."

Now he's enjoying his first taste of pro hockey at this week's camp, and earning praise from the Bruins brass.

"[He's] very efficient, great skater, processes the game really, really well," Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney said. "I think that those are his strengths, and you're not going to have to work to teach much more of that. The question is can he continue to do that against bigger, stronger players.

"Generally, the laws of physics start to apply and bigger players take advantage of that," Sweeney added. "I think he's got a lot of upside. You cross your fingers that he, like we all do at 5-10, that you're gonna grow. And if he doesn't, then he'll understand what his physical challenges are because he processes the game so well."

Grzelcyk certainly understands the challenges. But he's already come a long way to get back home, and he's not about to give up on that dream of skating on the Garden ice again.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

Photo via Twitter/@M_Grzelcyk7

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