February 16, 2014

Former BU Terrier Gryba carves rock-solid niche in Ottawa

By Bob Snow

Stay-at-home defenseman Eric Gryba helped Boston University win the 2009 NCAA title and claim a pair of Beanpot crowns. (Photos: Getty Images; BU Athletics)

He’ll likely never be among the NHL’s leading point producers.

But former Boston University and current Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba is quite content playing under that radar screen.

With just 26 total points in 156 games over four years on Commonwealth Ave. from 2006-10, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound former BU Terrier brings prototypical size — and smarts — to his budding career on the NHL sheet.

“I don’t judge how well I’m playing by my points,” Gryba told New England Hockey Journal in an exclusive interview about his evolving first full NHL season on the Senators’ blue line.

“It’s how well I’m bringing the puck out, how well I’m killing penalties and how physical I am by making guys pay the price every night.”

The Senators saw Gryba’s potential that would ultimately make many an NCAA player pay the price every night over four years, drafting him at No. 68 overall in the third round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

“Yeah, the physical size was a major reason,” the Saskatoon, Sask., native said about that draft. “But I also think they thought I had a pretty good mind for the game, a hockey sense that could eventually carry me to the NHL.”

Gryba’s hockey sense began with his decision to come to Boston after being heavily recruited by three NCAA powers.

“I had lots of college interest. My top three were BU, North Dakota and Michigan,” he said.

Why BU?

“The BU history, the city and the Beanpot were (tipping factors). “Meeting Jack (Parker) and seeing his winning tradition and meeting former players and guys you’ll be with for four years was great — and what a fantastic city.

“I didn’t know a lot about the Beanpot and the actual culture going into it. I was briefed on it, but coming from Saskatchewan, there was no Beanpot. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. Then you get here, and it’s an unbelievable experience for the fans, the players, the city.”

For Gryba, the decision also was embedded in BU’s league.

“Hockey East gives the chance to play against the best competition,” he assessed. “This league draws the best players in all of college hockey. You can see that with the number that goes on to the NHL and are successful here. Almost every (NHL) team has players who if I haven’t played with them, I’ve played against them.”

Gryba’s run at BU culminated with a degree in business. On the ice, Gryba and BU took care of some serious business, punctuated by a historic 2009 NCAA tournament run that saw BU win three consecutive one-goal games en route to the national championship.

Gryba had a front-row seat — and a key role his junior year — on April 11, 2009, when BU came back from two goals down against Miami of Ohio in the last minute of regulation in Washington D.C., tying the game at 3-3 on a Nick Bonino (Unionville, Conn.) goal with 17 seconds left in regulation.

“I was parked on the bench when (defenseman) Colby (Cohen) scored the winner in OT,” Gryba said, noting BU’s need for offense those crucial final minutes. “I had one or two shifts down the stretch, but none at the end of the game when the goals were needed.”

With Gryba’s consistent leadership and stay-at-home and in-your-face play, BU would win also win two Beanpots in 2007 and 2009. He was assistant captain his senior year. 

“I had a dropoff my sophomore year with mono and missed six weeks,” Gryba said. “But my junior and senior year, I got back on track with the development I thought I needed to extend my career. Playing so many minutes (at BU), and coaches knowing what kinds of play I was successful in to get me ready for this level and pushing me in those directions, were important. They didn’t pump my tires with all kinds of talent for the power play or scoring; they taught me a shutdown role. And I worked at that.”

Gryba continues working on that shutdown mission as games and minutes accumulate with the Senators after three years of transition from AHL play at Binghamton to an NHL career.

None better than from 2011-12 to last season, when he went from a minus-13 to a plus-28.

“There are very, very few guys that are ready right away coming out of college,” Gryba stressed about his necessary and patient learning curve. “For me as a bigger guy, it took more time learning the systems, how to be a pro every day. And it always comes down to good coaching. I’ve had great coaching for a long time now, and it’s been a huge factor in my development.”

As 2014 began, Gryba had played about half of the Senators’ games, with four points and a plus-6 rating.

“He still has to improve on his total game,” Senators coach Paul MacLean said. “But his size and his physicality are things that make him the strong player that he is. He’s been that way the last number of games.”

Gryba said, “It’s coming down to consistency, showing up every night and doing your job. At the start of this year, I had a little bit of a struggle between what I thought I needed to do and what the coaches thought was needed. The big thing was bringing that physical presence every night and keeping things simple.

“The challenge is to stay here.

“And become better every single day.”

That’s been Eric Gryba’s major goal since he landed on the BU campus from the heart of Canada in 2006. 

Bob Snow writes for NHL.com. He will contribute a monthly special for the New England Hockey Journal into the 2014 Frozen Four about an accomplished Division 1 player at a New England college who is succeeding in the NHL.

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