This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. and Puck Daddy will be on hand to cover the festivities. As a pre-cursor to our coverage, we talked to one player from each of the teams involved. Look for one interview a day through Thursday. Today, Hobey Baker Award finalist and top college hockey free agents, Matt Gilroy.
If you haven't heard of Matt Gilroy yet, you will in the next few weeks. Gilroy, a senior at Boston University, is one of the most highly sought-after undrafted free agents on the market. A handful of teams have been rumored to be interested in the 24-year old defenseman, including Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs -- who also scooped up University of Denver's Tyler Bozak and Notre Dame's Christian Hanson, also undrafted free agents.
Gilroy will be 25 years old when NHL training camps open up in September, meaning he is not held to entry-level contract restrictions and can be had for the highest offer.
A native of Long Island, New York, Gilroy walked on to the Boston University team and is currently the team's captain. One of eight children, Gilroy's younger brother Timmy died in a bike accident in 1993. Since then Gilroy has worn the No. 97 in Timmy's honor.
Along with Boston University teammate, Colin Wilson and Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen, Gilroy was named as a finalist for the 2009 Hobey Baker Award and took home the Walter Brown Award as the top American-born player in New England.
Puck Daddy spoke with Gilroy last Friday about growing up on Long Island, the low-quality bagels in the New England area, and his thoughts on playing in a hockey hot bed like Toronto.
Q. How are you approaching your first Frozen Four appearance in this your final year of school?
GILROY: Honestly, this week has sucked. You sit around and practice and it's tough. You're anticipating getting there. We have a day off tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday will come and then we'll really start feeling it, you know, we'll be a few days away from our first game against Vermont.
It's taken me four years to get here. We were close our freshman year, unfortunately, we got blown out by BC [in the Regional Final]. I'm just happy. A lot of guys come to college hockey wishing they can play for a national championship and we're a few steps closer to it coming this weekend.
You guys have been pretty consistent all season, 19-2-3 since mid-January ... what's the biggest factor in BU's success this year?
We've been a team since September, that's what coach [Parker] has made us. They don't care who was drafted, what round and where. We came to the rink, everyone was a team. We played as a team and that's what's made us so successful.
Congrats on the Hobey Baker nomination ... is there a friendly rivalry between you and [teammate] Colin Wilson?
We're teammates, we're buddies, we're friends. It's good to see he's only a sophomore and 19 years old and I'm a 24-year old senior, so he's got a ways to go and he's going to be a good hockey player. It's good to see how he stepped up this year to help the team.
So, no friendly wager on who wins?
No, nothing like that; just congratulate each other. It's pretty neat you're going up there with your teammate and a rival [Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen]. It's a pretty interesting final three this year.
Tell me about the college hockey culture up in Boston. If you walked into a restaurant that was owned by a Boston College graduate, would you get served?
No, they'd give us a dirty look if they know who we are. We'd probably walk in with BU stuff on just to make sure they knew who we were. It's a real good hockey culture, we don't like each other when we're on the ice, but we also respect each because we know how good each other can be. [It's] definitely so competitive, the skill level is so high and that's what makes it so interesting.
What other huge sports rivalry would you compare BC-BU to?
I think Michigan-Ohio State. It's not as well known as that, but everyone shows up to the games and everyone's looking for bragging rights.
To be totally honest, I wasn't a huge fan of either team. I liked certain guys on the teams. I grew up under two miles from Nassau Coliseum and my uncle used to work there, so I used to skate there. I've never actually been to a Ranger game. Maybe I'd have to say I'm an Islanders fan?
Did you go to a lot of Islanders games as a kid or just skate there?
We were a mile and a half away, we were at all the games and I remember the days of Pat LaFontaine. I remember skating with him at local rinks when he was there. I grew up playing with Bobby Nystrom's son Eric (Calgary Flames) and [former New York Islander] Gerry Hart's kid Jordi. I still skate with those guys in the summer.
What do you think about the state of Long Island hockey with guys like Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, Eric Nystrom all playing in the NHL? Are we going to see more guys come out of Long Island in the next five-to-ten years?
I think definitely. It started with the Ferraro brothers [Chris and Peter] and then those guys [Higgins, Komisarek, Nystrom] and I played and hopefully there's a whole new wave coming.
What do you miss most about Long Island?
There's no place to get a good bagel in the morning or a good egg sandwich. And the pizza up here is bad, it's just embarrassing.
Tell me why you chose BU.
It was the only place that said yes to me. When I was walking on, I understood I probably couldn't play as a walk on and they didn't care who you were drafted by, if you were a higher recruited kid, how many points you had in juniors. When it came down to make the decision on who's going to play, [BU head coach Jack Parker] was going to put the best players out there. I came here with no promises. He said you have to earn everything and if you do and show us you can play, I'll put you in.
Looking back when you arrived at BU and walking on to the team, could you have ever imagined you would have had so much success?
No, I didn't even think about that. I couldn't. I just had to stay focused.
Your younger brother Kevin is a freshman on BU and your teammate. He's also one of the reasons you came back for your senior season. Has your experience at BU helped get him acclimated to college hockey quicker?
I think so. You go through these things as teammates and roommates and you only know these guys for four years and maybe you known them in the past growing up, but when you go in there with your brother, who you've know your whole life, you get to experience that and be part of the BU hockey tradition ... it's a pretty special feeling.
You're a defenseman, he's a forward. Have you given him a couple of extra whacks in the corner during practice to further cement your role as big brother?
Yeah, that's allowed, too. You don't have to be as nice to your little brother like you do to your teammates, they might get a little pissed off, but you know you're brother's going to have to love you after it.
What's it like to be captaining such a storied program into the Frozen Four?
It's unbelievable, you know, serving as captain here. The tradition they [BU] brought when you're on that list [of all-time captains], it's special.
You're likely going to be named All-American for the third time, joining Rick Meagher and Chris Drury as Boston University's only three-time All-Americans. What would that honor mean to you?
With those two names, it's pretty special. The All-American is a big honor across the nation to receive that. I think it's a reflection of the guys who I've played with. Last two years I've been playing with Brian Strait who's allowed me to do whatever I want out there, taking any chances I want. He's covered for me and I've left him out for dry on 3-on-1's, 2-on-1's, but if it wasn't for him I don't know if I would have received the honors that I've received the last few years.
Vermont is a team that took two of three from you back in November. Does the fact that you haven't played them in almost five months change the way you approach your semifinal with them?
I think we're a different team, they're a different team, but I don't think they've changed that much. They're always a very hard working type of team. I think we're more of an offensive team this year, but they swept us on our home rink. I don't think guys will forget that, but they're going to be a very hard team to beat and they're playing real well defensively and their goalie is playing well.
Reports say that the Maple Leafs are the front-runners to sign you after the Frozen Four. What do you think about playing in such a fishbowl hockey town like Toronto?
Putting on an NHL jersey would be unbelievable, since I was a little kid I've wanted to. To play in a place like that [Toronto] would be special, where hockey's real big. There's tons of places where hockey's real big, not just there. That decision will come next weekend coming up and we'll see what happens, but I've been fortunate enough that people have noticed me and it's pretty special.
So you're going to decide on a team the week after the Frozen Four?
I haven't really focused on that all year. This year's been probably been the best year and most fun I've had because I knew at the end of the year I'd have to move on from it and only thought about BU hockey and just enjoyed it and the time with my teammates.
Which NHL defenseman would you compare yourself to?
Is there a team prankster that keeps the room loose?
What's the best prank either of them have pulled this season?
There haven't been many ... kids taping stuff to guys helmets without them knowing, but nothing real creative this year.
Your favorite hockey movie?
Probably "Slap Shot."
Do you think touching the original is a no-no?
You know, a lot of remakes, they don't make that good.
Favorite thing to do away from the rink?
Just hang out with my family. I'm one of eight kids, so there's a lot of people I can come back home and hang out with. You know, play hockey in the driveway or go to one of sisters' lacrosse games or soccer games.
The NHL playoffs are two weeks away, who do you have winning the Stanley Cup?
Honestly, I just don't want to the Bruins to win because my roommate's a diehard Bruins fan and all I hear about is Bruins, Bruins, Bruins.
Coming up on Wednesday: Puck Daddy chats with University of Vermont captain Dean Strong.