The All-American … Defenseman
In many ways, Matt Gilroy grew into his leadership role
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To see and hear Coach Jack Parker’s take on number 97, his senior cocaptain, click above.
He’s a national champion now, and that’s what matters most, contributing solid play throughout, contributing perhaps the most important assist in BU hockey history with only 17 seconds left in regulation Saturday night.
Matt Gilroy also is this year’s Hobey Baker Memorial award winner, chosen as the best college hockey player of the season when only a few years back he wasn’t given much of a chance to make the team.
All this sounds like the stuff of hockey dreams, and it is. But BU’s celebrated co-captain, though not yet 25, also has known devastating loss. When he was nine years old, his brother Timmy died from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident. Another brother, Brian, died only six days after birth. And his favorite uncle died when Gilroy was a teenager.
Before each play, the All-American defenseman taps his chest three times: once for Timmy, once for Brian, and once for Uncle Mike. “I want them to know they’re always on my mind,” says Gilroy (MET’09), “and that they’ve helped me come as far as I have.”
Gilroy has come a very long way since playing in suburban New York youth hockey leagues. One of eight surviving children, Gilroy describes his family as “very large and very sports-oriented. I think I’ve had a ball or a puck or a lacrosse stick in my hand since birth.” Sports-oriented, but not judgmental: although his father is a member of the St. John’s basketball hall of fame and his oldest brother played hoops for St. Anselm College, no one pushed Matt onto the court when it became clear he preferred the rink.
After high school, he played for two years in a junior league to prepare for collegiate hockey. “I wanted to play at a school that had a rich hockey tradition,” he says. “And everyone knows the legacy of BU.”
Gilroy was the last player to be selected for the 2005–2006 BU hockey team, the only one who didn’t come in on a hockey scholarship. The acceptance came with a stipulation from Coach Jack Parker: Gilroy had to switch from forward to defenseman. The condition would have discouraged most players — Parker has said that in some ways, that was his intent — but Gilroy accepted the challenge. “It’s actually one of the best things that could have happened to me,” he recalls, “because it developed me into a two-way player.”
During his freshman and sophomore years, Gilroy grew seven inches and gained more than 50 pounds. And his game improved — so much that less than two years after his tenuous beginning at BU, the pros came calling. Nearly every team in the National Hockey League was courting the player who had barely made the college team.
Gilroy never considered deserting his teammates. “I wasn’t ready to leave,” he says. “You only get four years of college hockey, and then it’s over. I didn’t want to give that up.”
Parker is grateful that his captain chose to stick it out. In spite of the coach’s initial skepticism, he says Gilroy has developed into one of the strongest players he’s seen in 36 seasons. “Matt’s got an enormous amount of skill,” he says. “He has great skating ability, great vision, great puck-handling ability. And he’s going to be a very skilled hockey player at the next level, I think. But most of all, he’s just a great kid, a great guy.”
“BU has let me develop as a player and as a human being,” Gilroy says. “If you look back at all the men who have come through this program, you see that they’re not only good players, they’re good people.”
Unlike many other pro-bound collegiate athletes, graduation will come for Gilroy. Then he plans to sit down with his big family and decide what’s next. There’s little doubt that the NHL awaits.
“I really want to play in a great hockey city — a Canadian city, an American city, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “I just want to play in a city where hockey matters.”
This year’s BU team has helped prove that Boston, despite the popular Red Sox and Patriots, is still one of those cities.
Vicky Waltz can be reached at email@example.com.
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