COLOGNE – Ask USA defenceman Matt Gilroy about what it means to be a “walk on’’ and what you get is a huge smile on his face.
Five years ago, Gilroy showed up at the training camp for the Boston University Terriers and asked whether he could try out for the team. He was a forward back then and was told there was a position open for the eighth and final spot on defence for the 2005-06 season.
Gilroy switched positions and made the team. He was scratched for the Terriers’ first three games of the season but dressed for the fourth match and hasn’t looked back.
Last season, Gilroy played in one of the greatest U.S. college championship games ever. Boston was down 3-1 with less than a minute left in the third period to Miami (Ohio) University but won in overtime.
He also won the prestigious Hoby Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college in 2009, and he went from having no NHL team wanting him – he was passed over in the years he was eligible for the draft – to being courted by a handful of clubs.
He signed with the New York Rangers and had four goals and 15 points in 69 games as an NHL rookie.
And when USA Hockey asked him to come to the IIHF World Championship, he said yes in the bat of an eye.
And it was Gilroy – the guy someone took a chance on a handful of years ago – who scored three goals in the 10-0 win over Kazakhstan in a Relegation Round game at the 2010 Worlds on Saturday.
“Pretty wild story,” said Gilroy after the United States ended a three-game losing streak with its first win. “They gave me a chance in Boston and I knew if I worked hard it would work out.
“I walked on and I stayed for four years. We won a national championship and I ended up singing with the Rangers as a free agent. And now I am here.”
Gilroy will be back in action on Sunday when Team USA plays France in the second of three Relegation Round games for each team. The French are coming off a 2-1 triumph over Italy and a second straight victory by either the U.S. or France would go a long way in preventing them from dropping from the IIHF’s top division to its second tier of competition.
Italy plays Kazakhstan in a battle of winless teams, also on Sunday.
The Relegation Round concludes Tuesday when two of the four teams will stay in the IIHF’s top division, and two will be demoted.
“We know how important this game is,” said Gilroy about facing the French.
Gilroy comes by athletics naturally.
His father played basketball for one of the top U.S. college teams. Gilroy is one of 10 kids and when the family assembles for events and holidays, they play sports.
“We are always outside doing something,’’ he said.
Gilroy grew up on Long Island, which is not far from New York, and was a fan of the New York Islanders. His favourite player was Pat LaFontaine.
But when the Rangers were seeking his services this time last year, it was a no-brainer to sign with them. He was basically playing in his hometown.
“My dad comes to all the home games, and the others (his nine brothers and sisters) are in and out,” he said.
Gilroy still remembers his first home game.
“I has chills up and down my spine, it was so exciting,’’ he said. “I got about 1,000 calls and text messages from people saying they were my best friend and they wanted a ticket. I didn’t know I had that many friends.”
The Rangers didn’t make the NHL playoffs and Gilroy jumped at the chance to make his debut for the U.S. national team at the 2010 World Championship.
“It was something I always wanted to do and it is something I hope I can keep doing,’’ he said. “This is a learning experience for me, being the first time here. I am showing that I am here to play and I take pride wearing this jersey.”
In the game against Kazakhstan, Gilroy gave fans a glimpse of his skill level in the first period when he carried the puck end to end and scored his first of three goals.
“It is something I like doing,’’ he said about rushing the puck.
With that, the guy who was a “walk on’’ walked away to prepare for his next game.