Matt Grzelcyk: An NHL dream weaver waits for the big call

Matt Grzelcyk earned some valuable experience playing with Team USA’s U-18 squad.

Charlestown’s own, Matt Grzelcyk, is fresh off earning a gold medal for the U-18 USA hockey team.
He’ll be heading to Boston University to play for the Terriers this fall, too.

But this weekend in Pittsburgh, Penn., Grzelcyk has a chance to achieve something he’s been working towards his whole life: Getting drafted by an NHL team.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound defenseman has been in contact with more than half of the NHL’s teams — including talks and a workout with the hometown Bruins — leading up to the draft. While he does not expect to hear his name called Friday night (Round 1), there’s a good chance it will happen Saturday (Rounds 2-7).

“I’ve been just trying to have as much fun with it as I can,” Grzelcyk said of the draft process. “Just really take into account what the teams have to say and know what I have to work on. If it happens, it’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world.”

About the only thing working against Grzelcyk is his build — according to some. But that doesn’t faze him one bit.

“It’s always been a criticism that I’ve heard my whole life,” he said. “I have seen defensemen at similar size make it so I use it as motivation. That talk always motivates me to work even harder and prove those critics wrong.”

Grzelcyk started skating when he was about 2 years old, following in the skate marks of his three older siblings.

It wouldn’t be long into his youth before he was playing with two fellow Charlestown natives and 2012 NHL Entry Draft hopefuls, Brendan Collier (BU) and Jimmy Vesey (Harvard) on the Middlesex Islanders. Jim Vesey, a former NHL player and Charlestown native, coached them.

“He’s always given us advice from an early age and I think he kind of set that bar high from when we were really young,” Grzelcyk said of Vesey.

And that bar kept getting higher as the years passed. Grzelcyk earned a spot on the USA National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., for two seasons.

“Once I was offered the chance I just couldn’t say no,” he said. “There’s nothing like playing for your country, especially in an international tournament … so it was a big honor for me.”

Grzelcyk was part of a defense that gave up a tournament record-low four goals on its way to gold in 2012. He finished with a plus-minus of plus-5.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “Maybe it says a little bit about how we were able to shut some guys down and factor in the offense as well.”

At the end of the day, a lot of the credit goes back to where it all starts: family. Grzelcyk’s father, John Sr., has worked as a member of the “Bull Gang” at the Garden for decades. That allowed Grzelcyk access that not many people get.

“When I was younger, he always brought me over there as much as he could,” Grzelcyk said. “I got to see how the pros carry themselves and how hard they worked. I guess at a young age I kind of got it, so I just really wanted to be like those guys.”

Regardless of what happens on Saturday, he’s well on his way.

Update: Grzelcyk selected by Bruins

Grzelcyk could take a cab or ride his bike to his introductory press conference as the Charlestown native was drafted in the third round (85th overall) of the NHL Draft by the Bruins on Saturday. - Matt Burke

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