By Bill Keefe
Everybody has to start somewhere.
For Frankie Vatrano, that meant strapping on the street hockey goalie pads as a 5-year-old and letting his brothers — 12 and 8 years older — “ripping them at me with no mercy.”
|Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.), who is headed to BC, was tied for second in goals with the U.S. National Team Development Program. (Photo courtesy of Tom Sorensen)|
Vatrano has come a long way from providing entertainment for his brothers in their East Longmeadow, Mass., driveway. A center on the U.S. Under-18 National Team with a scholarship waiting next year at Boston College, Vatrano’s ability also has him in the mix at the highest level of the game. Last month, he was ranked 118th among North American skaters for June’s draft by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.
“It’s always in the back of your head,” Vatrano said of the draft. “I try not to think about it and play the best I can. Before a game, you look up and there are tons of scouts there. No one on the team gets too worried about it. You try to take it one game at a time.”
Vatrano did admit that it’s “very exciting knowing everything you worked for is right around the corner.”
Being around his older brothers immersed Vatrano in the game. Sammy, the oldest of the three, played at Babson and Greg played at AIC, graduating last spring. Vatrano would go to their games and, when Greg was playing for the New England Junior Falcons, there was an extra draw because his cousin, current Boston College senior Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.), also was on the team.
From an early age, Frankie Vatrano and his parents put their time in on the road driving the hour-and-a-half to Marlboro, Mass., to play for the Minuteman Flames and then for the Boston Junior Bruins Empire League team. As one of the youngest Empire League players at age 14, Vatrano posted 38-38-76 numbers to help the Bruins to a playoff crown.
Last year, he made the jump to the U.S. National Team Development Program and did not miss a beat. His 19 goals and 30 points both ranked second on the team. He led the club in game-winning goals with seven and tied for the lead with four power-play goals.
Through 37 games this season, Vatrano was tied for second on the team with 10 goals and tied for fourth with 20 points.
“He has an NHL-level shot,” said Danton Cole, who has coached Vatrano for both seasons with the NTDP. “He can really hum a puck.”
But Vatrano is more than a one-dimensional player and works on his overall game.
“This year, I’m getting more physical, getting into the corners and it helps my play a lot,” Vatrano said. “Sometimes you’re not on your best game and you have to find other ways to contribute. There are always things you can get better at, the defensive game, moving laterally.”
Vatrano is thick at 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds. Just don’t take ‘thick’ to be a code word for slow or out of shape. On his Twitter account, Vatrano lays claim to being the “fastest 5-10 215 human.” He adds, “I’m comfortable where I am. If I lost five pounds, I would not be the same player.”
Said Cole, “He works his tail off in the weight room and on the ice. He is one of our strongest players. He is very efficient in his skating. He tracks the puck offensively and defensively as well as anyone here. If there’s a race for the puck, he usually wins it.”
Vatrano recently got the chance to showcase his skills for family, friends and probably a BC representative when the Under-18s came to Boston for a pair of games Jan. 7 and 8. Vatrano had a goal in a 7-4 win at Northeastern followed by an assist in a 3-3 tie with Boston University.
Next year, the games with BU will take on added significance, not only because of the BC-BU history, but also because his roommate of the past two years, Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), will be wearing scarlet and white.
“We joke around a little bit,” Vatrano said of the future rivalry. “It will be a lot of fun playing against him after living with him for two years, but it will be weird at the same time.”
It is those friendships as well as the experience of representing your country in international tournaments that Vatrano said he will relish the most from his time with the NTDP. So far, he has won three international competitions with two more opportunities: the Five Nations Tournament in Finland Feb. 7-13 and the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in April.
From doing anything just to play in the driveway to a Division 1 scholarship, a world championship opportunity and the subject of NHL scouts. Tag-along brothers everywhere, take notice.
Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) had three points in his Boston visit, two assists against Northeastern and another against BU. A pair of EJHL defensemen were called up to join the Under-18s for the Boston games. Tom Parisi, a Providence recruit from the Jr. Monarchs, had an assist in the BU game. UNH recruit Brett Pesce of the Hitmen also played in both games. …
South Shore King Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) is within reach of the EJHL single-season scoring record of 83 points set in 2006-07 by former New Hampshire Jr. Monarch Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.). The Harvard-bound Vesey had 73 points (40-33) in 37 games with eight games to play, including seven in February. Through Jan. 24, his 14 power-play and eight game-winning goals also were leading the league. …
Boston Junior Bruins forward Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) tied for the team lead with six points on two goals and four assists in six games, but the U.S. Under-16 Selects finished in fourth place at the Youth Olympic Games in Austria. Eichel was named U.S. Player of the Game with a goal and an assist in a 7-5 loss in the bronze-medal game defeat. St. Paul’s defenseman Ryan Bliss (Bedford, N.H.) had two assists in the tournament and was one of only four Americans with a plus rating. …
The Green Mountain Glades are moving to Maine next season and will play in the EJHL and Empire League as the Portland Jr. Pirates. The Pirates currently field teams in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League and the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League. …
Although the United States finished seventh at the World Junior Championships, the local contingent had good individual showings. Boston College center Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) was named one of the three best American players in the tournament by the coaches. He posted three goals and three assists in six games and played a solid two-way game. Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.), now of the Saint John Sea Dogs, had 4-1-5 totals while his old teammate at BU, Adam Clendening, went 1-4-5. Vermont forward Connor Brickley (Everett, Mass.) was off the scoresheet in three games. …
Vermont recruit Zemgus Girgensons, playing for Latvia, was selected as one of the three best players on his team. …
The U.S. Under-17 team captured the silver medal at the 10-team World Under-17 Challenge. Tyler Kelleher (Longmeadow, Mass.) had three assists in the tournaments while John Hayden (Greenwich, Conn.) was the U.S. Player of the Game in the 7-4 gold medal game loss to Russia. …
Second-year USHL linesman Ryan Daisy (Mansfield, Mass.), 23, worked the USHL Top Prospects Game Jan. 24. BU recruit and Indiana Ice forward Robbie Baillargeon (Enfield, Conn.) had a pair of goals in the game. Fellow future Terrier and Ice teammate Robert Poesello had an assist.
Others with New England ties who participated included Brown recruit Kevin Roy of the Lincoln Stars, the USHL’s leading scorer with 53 points through 35 games; Girgensons of Dubuque; Indiana goalie and Northeastern recruit Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine); defenseman and BC recruit Mike Matheson of Dubuque; UNH-bound Muskegon forward Jordan Masters; Youngstown forward Austin Cangelosi, who is headed to BC; Northeastern recruit and Lincoln forward Zach Aston-Reese; and Omaha goaltender Alex Lyon, a Yale recruit. …
UMass-committed forward Shane Walsh (West Roxbury, Mass.) was dealt from Dubuque in the USHL to the EJHL’s South Shore Kings. He notched a goal and an assist over his first two games with the Kings. …
Another USHL-to-EJHL player movement occurred when the Boston Bandits picked up forward Tyler Murray from Muskegon. …
Fargo’s Zane Gothberg, a 2010 sixth-round pick of the Boston Bruins, earned USHL goaltender of the week for the week ending Jan. 22 after stopping 84 of 87 shots over three wins.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Bill Keefe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org