Matt Grzelcyk’s second home has always been Boston Garden.
Beginning when the Charlestown native was a toddler, he used to take regular spins on the Garden ice while his father, John, performed his duties with the arena’s Bull Gang.
John Grzelcyk has spent 45 years with the Bull Gang, which is in charge of changing the Garden’s surface to prepare for whatever event is scheduled.
As much time as the younger Grzelcyk has spent at the historic building, when he takes the ice Monday afternoon for Boston University in the first Beanpot Tournament semifinal against Northeastern, it will be the first time he’s seen a Beanpot in person.
“I got to skate at the old Garden before they knocked it down but I don’t remember the details,’’ said Grzelcyk, 19, who was born on Jan. 5, 1994, halfway through the Bruins’ penultimate season at the old Garden. “Growing up, I would go over [to the new Garden] as much as I could, so I was very fortunate that way. I’m sure I took it for granted growing up. It’s not every day you get to go over there. So looking back on it now, I was very fortunate that I had that opportunity.’’
Because of Grzelcyk’s schedule, he was never able to see a Beanpot in person, although he did watch it on television.
“It seemed like every Monday I had a lot of schoolwork [at Belmont Hill] or I had a practice that night,’’ he said. “It was just something that I couldn’t miss. It was tough to watch it on TV but I’m excited to get over there and play. Two years ago, I got to play in the Under-17 tournament in Canada and there were about 13,000 fans there, so I kind of got a taste of [that atmosphere]. I was pretty nervous but you have to block it out and go play your game.’’
Another special aspect of playing in the Garden now is the fact that Grzelcyk is a Bruins prospect. The freshman defenseman was selected in the third round (No. 85 overall) of the NHL draft last June and participated in the team’s development camp.
“When I got drafted, one of the first things that came into my mind was all those times skating at the Garden with my dad,’’ said Grzelcyk, whose time playing for the US National Under-18 team in Michigan helped make the transition to college practically seamless. “That’s pretty cool in itself, just to be a part of the organization.’’
Although Grzelcyk is on the smaller side at 5 feet 9 inches and 171 pounds, he has undeniable skills, which start with his skating ability.
“He was always a good skater,’’ said John Grzelcyk. “He knows size-wise it’s a long shot for him to play in the NHL, so they’re really trying to take advantage of the school. He’s always been to good hockey schools. He’s been with [renowned skating coach] Paul Vincent since he’s been a kid and he’s never had a bad coach. I just hope he takes advantage of it.’’
The elder Grzelcyk said he has been able to see all of his son’s games and will happily be in attendance Monday, which is bound to be emotional.
“It’s really thrilling because I’ve been watching college hockey my whole life,’’ said John Grzelcyk, who played hockey at Charlestown High School and went on to a brief stint at Boston State. “I grew up with it. Now that it’s my son out there, it’s a little nerve-racking. Now I have a personal interest in the game.’’
Not only was Grzelcyk a Bruins fan growing up, he also rooted for BU, which made his college choice easy.
“When it was time to make a decision, they were just coming off a national championship run and I really wanted to stay local,’’ said Grzelcyk, who has two goals and 14 assists in 23 games this season. “They really stressed the importance of education, which is really important to me and my family. I think that was a huge factor.’’
It didn’t hurt that one of his former assistant coaches with the Middlesex Islanders was Mark Fidler, a four-year standout at BU.
“I’ve known his father for a long time,’’ said BU coach Jack Parker. “I’ve known Matt since he was a freshman at Belmont Hill watching him play. He’s really a good hockey player. He can skate, he sees the game, he has great hands, and he’s a real competitive kid.’’
There is a strong hockey connection between BU and Charlestown, and Grzelcyk is the latest in the long legacy.
“He’s seen a lot of Charlestown kids play on this team and be very successful here,’’ said Parker, “probably guys he looked up to like the Fidlers. Mike and Mark were terrific players here and Jack O’Callahan was a terrific player here. Billy Cotter and Billy Whelton were terrific players here. I think that makes an impression on kids.’’
Grzelcyk has made an impression on his teammates with his strong play.
BU junior defenseman Garrett Noonan said neither Grzelcyk nor freshman Ahti Oksanen have needed a lot of guidance from the upperclassmen.
“They’ve played so well, they don’t need me in their ear or anything like that,’’ said Noonan. “They’ve been playing great so I try to leave them alone.’’
Noonan got his first look at Grzelcyk during skating workouts in the summer and he said he was impressed right away.
“I knew how special he was,’’ said Noonan. “I didn’t know how great of a kid he was. He’s an awesome kid. I’m not surprised he’s done this well, because of his work ethic. He’s a special kid. How smart he is and his skating ability, two things you don’t see in everybody, and he’s got both. You can trust him in all situations. He and Ahti have been two of our great players and I’m sure [the Beanpot] will be fun for them.’’