WILMINGTON – If there’s one thing that a number of Bruins officials have marveled at since the start of development camp earlier this week, it’s the composition of the 23-player roster for the camp. The B’s have more prospects from Massachusetts (five) and the Swedish Leagues (six) than they have Canadian campers (four: Malcolm Subban, Matt Benning, Mitchell Dempsey and Kyle Baun), and second generation Bruins prospects like Ryan Fitzgerald and Ryan Donato guarantee that the Black and Gold family lives on.
Some of the recent influx of local players is simply cyclical with Massachusetts going through a few years heavy with hockey talent, but some of it also points to the Bruins’ run over the last seven years to get local kids back onto the ice. Fitzgerald and Donato are both clearly a few years away from potentially competing for NHL jobs, but both have wicked shots and the kind of hockey smarts you would expect from families steeped in the hockey community.
“This is just great for Massachusetts hockey, and it just shows that guys that go the prep school route can develop their game better going through that route,” said Donato. “It shows that Massachusetts has a bunch of great hockey players, and places where guys can develop.”
It’s pretty interesting to scan around the Ristuccia Arena stands during a random prospect session, and spy Harvard University coach Ted Donato chatting with Don Sweeney and Peter Chiarelli, and no doubt mapping out the immediate hockey future for Boston’s second round pick. Sweeney admitted that watching the sons of B’s teammates getting drafted and developed as prospects is a reminder that time continues to march on.
“For me, it has a little more [meaning] because I played either with or against their dads, it means I'm old as well. But it’s fun to watch these kids grow up in your backyard that you’ve seen them play, and continue to develop,” said Sweeney. “It’s a testament to the area and the quality of competition that Massachusetts -- and the area -- is producing these players.
“It’s fun. They have a real – you know, you watch Ryan’s [Fitzgerald] family realize how exciting it is, both Ryans for that matter, and Grizz’s [Matt Grzelyck] family is a great story. They weren’t drafted because of the story, but the best part about it is they get to add another chapter. If they do go on to fulfill their dream, then it becomes that much better, that much more rewarding for everybody involved because the Bruins are part of the fabric of this community. Kids grow up here rooting for them, cheering for them, to have a chance to play for them. Mike Milbury said the same thing, ‘It’s just a childhood dream’ and to be able to have some sort of piece of that, I think, is a great story."
Couple the two Ryans with Matt Grzelcyk, Billy Sweezey and Reading native Michael Doherty, and there is a lot of Massachusetts hockey pride going around. Sweezey and Doherty are a bit more of a long shot as undrafted camp invites, but they didn’t look out of place skating with top prospects from Sweden, Slovakia, Belarus and any other parts of the hockey universe.
“It’s awesome. As of lately [the Bruins] have been taking a lot of local kids, and they took Donato this year. He’s a great player,” said Fitzgerald, who has connected with David Pastrnak for scoring plays more than once in the first few days of drills. “I just met him the other day. He’s a great kid, and a great hockey player. I love what they’re doing.
“It’s a pretty small hockey world when I’m skating in these camps with kids I’ve been skating with since I was 10 years old.”
It might be a little different for Fitzgerald, who is coming off a freshman season of 13 goals and 29 points for Boston College, and Donato, who have the added pressure of living up to fathers that had long NHL careers. That’s only magnified in Boston where both Tom Fitzgerald and Ted Donato donned the Black and Gold, but it’s also something both sons have been dealing with their entire hockey careers.
“We’ve had that kind of pressure our whole lives, so it’s something we’ve dealt with. I’m sure [Donato] will probably say the same thing,” said Fitzgerald. “I don’t really feel too much pressure to be honest with you. It’s not a burden.”
Once Donato makes it to Harvard University, the “local kid does well” story line will go on with both Ryans playing college hockey in Boston, and Grzelcyk doing the same at Boston University. It will be amplified even further next season when local amateur players like Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Colin White get selected at the top of the first round in next summer’s NHL Draft.
The signs are unmistakable that Massachusetts hockey is coming back in a big, big way, and they have a burgeoning group of players to prove it. Now all they need is to produce an NHL superstar player or two, and it will be like the 1990’s with Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte all over again.