Home NHL Home Grown: Matt Gilroy

Home Grown: Matt Gilroy

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by Randy Schultz

 

It is the Tuesday following the NHL trading deadline. In what seems like a whirlwind trip, Matt Gilroy skates onto the ice of the TD Garden in Boston.

For the third time in two seasons, the 27 year-old defenseman is wearing a different NHL Team sweater. On this night its with the Ottawa Senators, the team he had been traded to just 24-hours earlier by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And has been the case since he was nine years old, Gilroy wears the number 97 on his back. While it may appear to be somewhat flamboyant, there is a special reason Gilroy wears that particular number.

“I wear it in honor of my late brother, Timmy,” explained Gilroy, a native of North Bellmore, NY. “He died when he was just eight years old.

“When we were kids growing up, I would wear 98 and he would wear 97. We did it to honor Wayne Gretzky.

“After he died, I decided to change my number to 97 to honor Timmy. I’ve worn it on every team I’ve every played on.”

But it really hasn’t always been that easy.

“There were some teams when I was growing up, where I couldn’t get 97,” recalled Gilroy, the won of Frank and Peggy Ann Gilroy. “Then I would wear either a nine or seven.

“Then my mom would stitch a patch with 97 on it some place inside my jersey. I’ve always had something to remember Timmy with.”

One place in particular where Gilroy almost didn’t get to wear 97 was with Boston University. Legendary head coach, Jack Parker, never allowed such high numbers to be worn by any of his players.

Well almost never.

“I guess the person who really helped me out there was assistant coach, Mike Bavis,” said Gilroy. “He understood why I wanted it (Bavis’ twin brother died on Sept. 11, 2001 on one of the two planes hijacked and flown into the World Trade Towers in New York).

Coach Bavis talked to Coach Parker. I’m not sure what he said to him, but I finally got permission to wear 97.

“I wasn’t really sure I was even going to get it because I was a walk-on with Boston. And the only spot I could fill was defense.

“I was a natural forward. But I knew my only chance on playing with BU was switching to defense.

“So I did.”

Gilroy is a 2003 graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, where he captained their hockey team to two New York State championships. He was MVP in his junior year as well as earning all-league selections in his junior and senior campaigns.

Despite his great play, there were no offers on the table waiting for Gilroy when he graduated from high school. Size may have had something to do with it.

“I was around 5-7 or 5-8 at the time and weighed around 150-pounds,” remarked Gilroy, who is now 6-2 and weighs 195-pounds. “It wasn’t until after I got into college that I really had a growth spirt.”

Gilroy then opted to play junior hockey for two seasons with the Walpole Jr. Stars of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

With still no offers on the table, it was off to Boston University. So why did Gilroy play hockey to begin with?

“I came from a large family (10 children) and my parents let us play whatever we wanted to growing up,” explained Gilroy, who also played lacrosse in high school. “My dad was a great basketball player for St. John’s and is in their Hall of Fame.

“But I think I was influenced by the success at the time I was growing up of the New York Islanders and the fact they had won four Stanley Cups before I was even born. And hockey was a sport I just seemed to excel at.”

Gilroy’s story at BU is legendary. Making the team as a walk-on, the defenseman would go on to earn All-American honors three times, win the Hobey Baker Award in his senior year and lead the Terriers to the 2009 NCAA men’s hockey championship.

For the record, Gilroy was just the third player in NCAA history to earn three All-American honors (Rick Meagher and Chris Drury being the other two) and he was just the fifth player to win the Hobey Baker and and NCAA championship in the same season.

Interestingly, Gilroy could have left BU after his junior season. Undrafted by the NHL, Gilroy was a hot free agent prospect.

“He turned down all offers and returned to BU for his senior year.

“I had dreamed of someday playing in the NHL, but I knew that a pro hockey career would not last forever,” said Gilroy. “And you only get one shot at college hockey as well for four years and I wanted the college education.

“It was a tough decision, but one I don’t regret. We won a championship and winning the Hobey was just a nice finish to my college career.”

Ironically, one of his most memorable moments in youth hockey came as a mite player.

“That year I played on a line together with my brothers, Timmy and Frank,” remembered Gilroy. “It was the only time that ever happened.”

One coach he credits with his success was the legendary Aleksey Nikiforov.

“He’s the best,” remarked Gilroy. “He first coached me when I was 10.

“He’s also coached Mike Komisarek, Eric Nystrom and Chris Higgins. He taught us to be hockey players, not positional players.

“I think that is the main reason why I was able to make the move from forward to defense when I went to Boston University.”

Gilroy signed a two-year deal with the New York Ranger as a free agent for the 2009-10 season. That was followed by another one-year contract with the Lightning for this season.

With high school hockey championships under his belt, as well as one NCAA  hockey title, there must be a Stanley Cup in the future for Gilroy.

“We will have to wait and see about that,” concluded Gilroy. “I don’t know where my NHL career will take me.

“But it would be great to cap off a hockey career with the Cup. It would be a dream come true.

“We will just have to wait and see what happens.”*

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