July 28, 2012

Defense doesn't rest: Grzelcyk, Trotman prepping for season

By Kirk Luedeke

With the New England Patriots convening in the Bay State for the 2012 season’s training camp, it also serves as a reminder that summer preparations for the 2012-13 hockey campaign are in high gear for Boston Bruins prospects Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) and Zach Trotman. 

Charlestown's Matt Grzelcyk was selected in the third round by Boston. (Getty Images)

Although talk about Boston Bruins prospects on defense often starts with Dougie Hamilton, Trotman and Grzelcyk are two players who are bolstering the organization’s depth. Both of the B’s young futures on the blue line are at home putting in the time and effort to get themselves ready for their immediate challenges.

Grzelcyk is entering his first NCAA season with the Boston University Terriers and is taking summer classes in archaeology and criminal justice (corrections). He’s also continuing his on- and off-ice workouts with noted strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle, along with the rest of the inbound freshman hockey class.

For Trotman, who left Lake Superior State University last spring to turn pro, his focus is on the more immediate challenge of making the Boston Bruins roster in the fall. If he doesn’t land with the big club, he got a taste of what is to come when he played nine AHL games with Providence to close out the 2012 season.

“It was exciting for sure,” Trotman told New England Hockey Journal about his brief time with the Baby B’s. “It was definitely a change of pace and I found it was a different style completely from what I was used to in college. It was nice to go out and play with and against players I’ll be seeing again at that level and get to know the systems and situations there.”

Trotman turns 22 next month and is coming off an 11-goal, 21-point season with the Lakers as a junior. The Noblesville, Indiana native (who spent a lot of his formative years in Novi, Michigan) has the right size to play the position at the highest level and brings good mobility with above average puck-moving skills, a hard shot and the right kind of vision and instincts to reach the NHL and contribute despite being the last pick in the 2010 draft after being passed over twice.

Grzelcyk, 18, said that the euphoria from being selected in the third-round of the NHL Entry Draft last month by the club he grew up following and dreaming of playing for hasn’t worn off, even if he’s turned the page on the experience.

“There’s always work to do,” he said after a recent conditioning session at Boyle’s. “All the freshmen are living in the dorms and a few of the local players (who are upperclassmen) are there too. We work out about three times a week, and I get into the weight room at about 6:45 for a nice long lift. That gives me the rest of the day for classes, some on-ice work (at the Walter Brown Arena) and to recover from the day’s activities.”

Grzelcyk’s story by now is a well-documented one.

The Townie is the son of a member of the TD Garden bull gang, who has been in and around the Bruins for the better part of four decades. Young Matt grew up with black and gold blood coursing through his veins, overcoming challenge after challenge in minor hockey all the way to Belmont Hill Academy before jumping off to the U.S. National Team Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan two years ago.

“It was just insane,” said Grzelcyk about the whirlwind he experienced in late June when he traveled to Pittsburgh to begin his pro hockey journey in earnest. “To think a couple of months ago, I wasn’t even going to attend (the draft). In fact, I wasn’t even paying attention when the Bruins called my name, just because I didn’t think it was going to happen that fast.”

Grzelcyk said that even if he had not have been drafted, it would have been a great experience for him to be at the Consol Energy Center to support his close friends from the NTDP.

“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if he was expecting the B’s to make the choice where they did. “Even when I heard them say ‘from the U.S. National Team’ before announcing my name, I didn’t think it was happening. Even when the Rangers did it—I expected (Stefan) Matteau to get picked there—it was Brady (Skjei). So, you pick up on the team when they say it, but it’s hard to get your head around it when you hear your own name follow.”

Grzelcyk didn’t have much time to process the experience of wearing the Bruins jersey for the first time in his life as an actual member of the organization before he was on the ice at the Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington for his first development camp.

“It was awesome and brought back a lot of memories of skating there for Paul Vincent’s (power skating instruction) and going to Bruins training camps as a fan,” he said. “It was crazy. You try not to look up at the stands as much as you can, but there were a lot of people there. Some in management said more people were there than when Tyler Seguin was there. I don’t know for sure, but being a part of the energy and support the fans gave us was pretty special.” 

Zach  Trotman had three points in nine games for the P-Bruins last year. (Getty Images)

If Grzelcyk was experiencing development camp as more of a wide-eyed rookie than anything else, then Trotman played the role of “grizzled” vet at age 21 in his third iteration.    

“A lot of it is the same,” Trotman said about the experience overall. “The fitness testing and events don’t change, so I just try to be a little better. I was more focused and knew what to expect going in. Those of us who had been through it before had an idea of how physically demanding everything was going to be, so it ends up being a situation where you can afford to focus on specific areas in your game you know you need to improve.”

At 6-foot-4 and about 210 pounds, Trotman said that his biggest conditioning challenges are with the events that test his flexibility. To address that, he’s working out hard at his home in the Hoosier state and will go to Michigan in August for his final conditioning program of the off-season before it will be time to return to Boston for his first full pro campaign.

After a breakfast of egg burritos (Trotman’s specialty), he heads to the rink with several local NCAA and junior players for power skating and on-ice conditioning work. Four to five times a week, he’s in the gym conducting specified lifts and programs from B’s strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides (Watertown, Mass.).

“Obviously—first and foremost—wherever (the Bruins) put me, I want to do what I can to help my team win games,” he said. “My goal is to be playing in Boston next season and everything I do is geared around getting ready to achieve that. But if the decision is for me to play in Providence, it doesn’t matter. My focus is on being the best player I can be to support my teammates and win hockey games. It’s not about me, but about being a part of a successful team, no matter where that is.”

Because of Trotman’s size and skill level, he could be a player who might in fact see some NHL action next season, even if conventional thought has him ticketed for the farm.

Grzelcyk’s path to what he hopes one day will allow him to skate in the TD Garden on ice his father helped to build while wearing the spoked-B of his favorite team is only beginning. “Grizzy” will likely get a tune-up in the building he lives so close to, wearing Boston University colors in Beanpot tournaments to come, but he knows that earning the privilege of skating for his beloved Bruins is a longer road to travel.

“It’s been nothing but positive,” he said. “Being drafted higher than expected has created some pressure, but everyone’s been real supportive. Talking about how I always wanted to play for the Bruins doesn’t get old, but that’s a long way off. I’m so excited to begin my college hockey career and gain the experience that will hopefully help me achieve my NHL dream.”

Although undersized, Grzelcyk brings speed, skill and heart to the table. Critics of the selection (85th overall) may point to the risk involved with taking him, along with the fact that the B’s have a plethora of defensemen under 6-foot within the organization. In his case, the team simply felt his upside as an offense-minded defender with smarts was too important to pass on.

Trotman’s size and raw potential could very well earn him the distinction of Dougie Hamilton-lite in the Boston organization in terms of being more of the prototype mobile, two-way blue liner in the modern NHL.

Like the rest of their peers in the organization, the summer of 2012 is not so much about rest and relaxation but preparation. Trotman and Grzelcyk may be a few years apart in their development, but fans would do well to keep both on their season watch lists.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kluedeke29.