|Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk was the final cut from the U.S. world juniors team that won gold last season. (Getty Images)|
Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk spent Christmas out of the country last year. He’ll be away again this year, but don’t expect him back until after New Year’s this time.
Coming off his third-round selection by the Boston Bruins, Grzelcyk enjoyed a great freshman season for BU last year. Playing in all 38 games, the Charlestown, Mass., native led Terrier defensemen in assists with 20, points with 23 and plus/minus at plus-12. He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team.
The one disappointment came right after Christmas. Grzelcyk made it through training camp with the U.S. National Junior Team, at which point the roster is normally finalized. He traveled to Sweden for some exhibition games, and then on to Russia for the start of the World Junior Championship. He didn’t play in the opening win against Germany and then, after that game, was the last cut from the team. The Americans went on to win the gold medal.
“He handled it as well as a player can,” said Jim Johannson, the general manager of the national junior team and the director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. “I’m not sure he agreed with it, but he knew what we were doing was in the best interest of the team.”
Grzelcyk is now poised to play a key role in the Americans’ bid to capture their fourth gold medal and win back-to-back championships for the first time.
Continuing his solid play in his sophomore season with BU, Grzelcyk will travel to Minneapolis for training camp Dec. 15-18. Then it’s on to Sweden for the World Junior Championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5.
“He’s a guy that can play all situations,” Johannson said. “He can skate and has offensive abilities, but he is a good defender and that is an underrated part of his game. He is real coachable, and that’s important during this tournament to be adaptable to different things we may try to do.”
This past summer, he attended his second Bruins development camp; you might have caught him on NESN’s “Behind the B” program — and as part of our cover feature “Boston Common” in the August 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
He was then invited to his second national junior team evaluation camp, where he had a goal and assist in the first two games, survived the cutdown and had two more assists in the final two games.
“It was not as much of a letdown as people think,” Grzelcyk said of last year’s experience. “All those guys are great guys. It was an honor to be out there with those guys and a privilege to go as far as I did. I want to make the team this year and see what happens.”
Several other players from the area also are vying for spots on the team. Providence College goalie Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) is a returnee from last year’s team and the likely No. 1 for this year’s club. Boston College’s Thatcher Demko was one of the other two goalies who made it through the evaluation camp cutdown.
Boston College’s Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini and UNH’s Brett Pesce, together with Grzelcyk, were among the 10 defensemen who finished the evaluation camp.
Three local forwards finished camp: Quebec Rempart Adam Erne (North Branford, Conn.), BU Terrier Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) and Michigan Wolverine Cristoval Nieves, who played at Kent School.
BC assistant coach Greg Brown (Scituate, Mass.) will serve in the same role under Don Lucia, the head coach at the University of Minnesota.
USA Hockey monitors players through the fall and says all players remain eligible regardless if they participated at evaluation camp, got cut, or made it all the way through. One potential wild card in this regard is U.S. Under-18 forward Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.), who has been tearing it up with multiple-point efforts in five of his first seven USHL games and 27 points in his first 15 games overall.
When interviewed in late November, Grzelcyk was maintaining focus on his BU season, but said the WJC was in the back of his mind. His experience both last year, and playing two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program, have him prepared for this year, he said.
“Having played in Ann Arbor, I’m comfortable with the guys trying out and the coaches and the trainers,” Grzelcyk said. “Having those experiences make me more relaxed going out on the ice.
“Having gone over for the start of it, I got a firsthand experience for how intense the games are.”
The larger European ice surface is something that should suit Grzelcyk’s skating and puck-moving game well. The recent play of Bruin Torey Krug, another smaller, strong-skating, puck-moving defenseman, has proved that kind of game can be played at the highest level in North America as well.
“It’s great to see,” said the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Grzelcyk. “Having gone through (Bruins development) camp with Torey my first year, I saw how hard a worker he was and how determined he is. It couldn’t happen to a better kid. Size is always talked about in the draft. It’s good to see smaller guys get some success.”