By Kirk Luedeke
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — They were drafted together by the Boston Bruins in 2010, played their NCAA hockey against each other in the state of Michigan and turned pro together in 2012. Now, defenseman Zach Trotman and left winger Justin Florek are working together to one day realize their NHL dream.
Florek (right) hails from Marquette, along the shores of Lake Superior on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or UP. He’s a proud ‘Yooper’ as the hardy citizens of that rugged northern climate on the Great Lakes like to refer to themselves, while Trotman is an Indiana native who spent his high school years in Novi, Michigan before his family moved back to the Hoosier State. Both went to CCHA schools on the UP: Trotman to Lake Superior State (making him a college ‘Yooper’), while Florek stayed home to ultimately captain the Northern Michigan Wildcats in his senior season.
The two are good friends who have a lot in common, not the least of which is their quest to play hockey at the highest level with the team that drafted them as late bloomers three years ago.
“It’s been a great experience,” Trotman told New England Hockey Journal during a break in the action at the 2013 rookie tournament in South Florida. “I feel real good and am ready to get started on the new season.”
Trotman completed his first full rookie professional campaign in the AHL last year after leaving school a year early to sign with the B’s and seeing late season action in Providence back in the spring of 2012. He played well last season, but suffered several concussions that forced him to miss nearly half of the schedule, appearing in just 48 games (two goals, 16 points).
However, Trotman wasted no time in his first rookie game of the year against the Tampa Bay Lightning, unleashing his cannon-like slap shot and finding the back of the net on a 5-on-3 advantage in Boston’s 5-5 tie to open the tourney here Friday.
“It definitely amps you up a little bit especially when it’s the first time wearing the big club’s logo,” he said. “Obviously it’s our first game together as a team so I thought guys picked up on the system pretty well. At times, we had a few lulls that cost us today but, for the most part, guys were sticking to the system and battling hard.”
Trotman wore the ‘C’ as the team captain against the Lightning rookies, demonstrating perhaps where Providence coach Bruce Cassidy sees him in the mix in terms of impact and leadership going forward. With his size, mobility and booming drive, Trotman has all of the physical tools to be an effective two-way NHL defenseman if he can overcome the injuries that derailed his first pro season.
“I thought Zach had a good, solid game,” Cassidy said afterwards. “He was effective on the power play and he used that big, powerful shot of his to good effect.”
Florek is perhaps one of the more underrated prospects in Boston’s system.
Coming off a modest 11-goal, 27-point rookie season in the AHL (71 games), the 6-foot-4 winger doesn’t get a lot of fanfare for his straight-ahead, yet effective playing style. Florek has the size and strength to power through opposing players who make the mistake of trying to take him on in the open ice, and his fearsome shot—heavy and accurate—is one of his best assets.
“Florek looked good out there today,” said an NHL scout with a Western Conference team who was taking in the tourney in Coral Springs. “He’s gotten a little quicker and is playing with some confidence. He plays a pretty simple north-south game, but he works hard and plays well in all zones.”
For his part, Florek knows that the skating is a factor in why he was passed up in the 2008 and 2009 drafts before Boston grabbed him in the fifth round of 2010.
“It was a good off-season,” Florek said. “I went home for about a month and then I came back out East for a month to train with (Michael) Macchioni in Providence and skate at 146 (in N. Smithfield, R.I.).”
An avid angler, Florek said that he missed out on the Salmon season, but caught plenty of Walleye and Pike in Michigan. He also talked about catching tuna during a trip to Mexico, where he managed to hook on with some Mexican fishermen and secure a spot on their boat. Even though they couldn’t speak the same language, the universal dialect of fishing carried the day and Florek had a blast hauling in some big fish.
Now, he’s setting his sights on reel in a spot on a very deep Boston left wing depth chart.
“I think the biggest thing (I addressed over the summer) was my training and nutrition,” said Florek. “My body fat’s always been a little high, so I just tried to eat the right things. Get a little more lean and lose a couple of pounds but at the same time gain a little muscle. That’s important for me to get faster and stronger on the ice.”
Trotman (right), who is a fluid and mobile skater for his 6-foot-4, 215-pound size also worked on improving those areas, knowing he also faces stacked depth at the defense position.
“You’re always trying to get stronger, always trying to get faster with the foot speed,” Trotman said. “I spent a little more time on the ice this summer leading up to camp; (working on) battle drills, being a little more physical- me and Florek battled for about a month before camp started.”
Both players benefited from Providence’s veteran presence on the roster a year ago with Trent Whitfield, Jamie Tardif and Chris Bourque to name several lending their knowledge and experience to the younger crew.
“It was great to have a lot of vets on the team last year,” said Florek. “I learned from them and they helped show me the way. I look forward to continuing that and getting bigger, faster and stronger.”
Now, Florek and Trotman will take on a more veteran role to help ease the transition for the group of rookies coming up from the major junior ranks this season. With expanded roles in Providence, anything is possible, and the two want to be ready if the big club calls.