Boston University senior captain Matt Gilroy has been named to the All-Hockey East first team three times, the first time in league history any defenseman has accomplished such a feat. He was also just named as one of three Hobey Hat Trick finalists along with sophomore teammate Colin Wilson and Northeastern junior goalie Brad Thiessen, marking the first time all three finalists have been from the same conference.
If Boston University wins the national championship next week, Gilroy will go down as the co-captain of the winningest team in program history. He’s been in the top five in scoring among Hockey East defensemen for three consecutive seasons, and he leads the league’s blueliners with 28 assists and 36 points this season.
Inside College Hockey caught up with Gilroy this week to discuss BU’s Frozen Four matchup with Vermont, the significance of his captaincy, and passing up a professional contract to return for his senior season.
Jeff Howe: Now that you’re fully engulfed in your preparation for the Frozen Four, what is the mood of the team in the locker room?
Matt Gilroy: We’re really excited. It’s been a long, long year. This is the goal for probably every team in the nation to get a chance. We’re one step closer. We’re in the final four, and we can’t wait to get it started.
INCH: How do you guys manage the long layoff? This is something you haven’t experienced in a few months, and all the while you’re preparing for the biggest game of your lives.
MG: To be honest with you, I have no idea because none of us have ever been here before. We just have to focus on what we’ve done all year. Come to the rink. Everyone is having fun. We train as a team. We work as a team. That’s what we have, and that’s what we know.
INCH: You guys are going into D.C. as the clear-cut favorites. How do you make sure you don’t buy into the hype and keep things in perspective?
MG: All year long, we’ve stayed away from the public rankings and what they’ve thought about us. We’ve kept in the locker room. We’ve got to keep it the same way, not think about that stuff and keep it simple. Anyone can win now, and there’s no fear really in the final four. If you’ve gotten there, you’re a good hockey team and you have a chance to win a national championship.
INCH: Is it an advantage or a disadvantage for you to be playing Vermont, who you have already seen three times this season?
MG: That’s a hard question because they’re a really good hockey team. They give us a lot of trouble. They know us pretty well, and we know them pretty well. It should be fun to play them because they’re a hard-working team. They’ve got a great goaltender. They play great defense. I’m just excited to finally be in the Frozen Four.
INCH: How much will you be looking back to the series in November when they took two from you at Agganis Arena?
MG: That will be in the back of our minds. Earlier in the year, they swept us at home, which was hard to take. They came in here, and they were the better team for those two nights. They outworked us. We’re going to bring our best game next Thursday to beat a team like Vermont.
INCH: You ended Boston College’s season in the Hockey East semifinals. Even though you’ve got some bigger things to worry about right now, do you still take some pride in that?
MG: There is always pride whenever we just get a win against Boston College. We got to play them in the semifinal, and to send them home was pretty nice this year. They did it to us my freshman year [in the Northeast Regional finals] when they sent us home and marched on to the final four. We’ve been on both sides of that, and it’s a very good experience both ways.
INCH: Take me back to that game. You were on a 19-1-2 run going into the game, and they beat you 5-0. How did that experience help you in a similar situation against New Hampshire last Sunday?
MG: We beat Ohio State and our senior class said, “Remember this time a few years ago what happened, and we’re not going to let that happen again.” We came out and played a good game. It was an unbelievable game, and we were able to pull it out in the end.
INCH: What did it mean to you to be named one of the team’s captains heading into the season?
MG: Just to be named as a captain and to be respected by your teammates and coaching staff like that is a pretty big honor. A lot of famous people wore the “C” here — Chris Drury, to name one. Just to be looked at by the guys you go to work with every day and the coaches who help you every day is pretty special. And to do it with my roommate and probably my best friend in college, Johnny McCarthy, made it even more special.
INCH: Did you seek out any advice from past captains or anyone else on what it would take to be a captain?
MG: I remember over the summer I was talking with Brad Zancanaro, who was the captain during my freshman year. I asked, “You had a pretty successful team. What was the thing that you guys focused on?” He said to just be a team. That’s been the coaches’ motto all year. He wants us to be BU hockey players, and that’s what we focus on. Not just the captains, but the whole senior class has been great with their leadership.
INCH: You said that during the second intermission of the UMass Lowell game in the Hockey East championship that the seniors and captains were vocal about the team having to step up. Have there been any other moments like that when the captains have really had to take control and jump start the team?
MG: I don’t think we’ve had to, to be honest with you. We have such a talented team. And to go along with our talent, we have such a focused team, too. It’s really been fun to be named captain and to lead this team with Johnny and [Brian Strait]. It hasn’t been hard work at all. To be totally honest with you, guys are so committed here. I think going through what we went through last year, we ended our season and didn’t even make it to the NCAA’s, and we worked so hard all summer and all fall. I think guys really came with the mindset that we want this and we’re going to be a team and we’re going to get this to work. It really wasn’t that hard of a job.
INCH: With all of the talent on the team, do you guys talk about playing against each other in the pros one day?
MG: To be honest with you, that was one of the things we made sure we didn’t bring to the locker room this year because that’s nothing we can determine now. All we could focus on was being a BU hockey team and being at BU. We do have a lot of talented players who hopefully have great careers professionally, but that’s coming in the future. We can’t do anything about that. All we can worry about is what is going on this year and focusing on this year. That’s been really helpful to our success.
INCH: On a personal level, you could have gone pro last summer. How close were you to signing a professional contract?
MG: I was extremely close, extremely close, and then I had to take a step back, sit down with my family, put it all down on paper and really take a good, hard look at it. And I am so happy I did not turn pro.
INCH: Why is that? What were the factors that made you come back to BU?
MG: First of all, I was named captain and I talked about what that has meant to me. Of course, there was the financial thing with my age and the benefits of staying. And then I think the two biggest factors besides being named captain were my brother, Kevin, was coming here, and I’ve never had an opportunity to play with him on any sports team. So that was pretty special for Kevin and me and our family.
The last thing, which might be the most important, is college hockey is such a special sport. You only get four years at it, and once you leave, you can never get that year back if you turn pro. You only get four years to try to win something special and to leave something special at your school. My classmates and I have worked so hard, so I wanted to make sure I finished it out with them and finish it out the right way.
INCH: With all of the talented players on your team who get a ton of recognition, who is someone who doesn’t get the credit they probably deserve?
MG: The first name that comes to my head is [defenseman] Steve Smolinsky. He’s a senior. He’s been my roommate for all four years with Brandon Yip and Johnny McCarthy. If you ask any guy on the team who’s their favorite teammate or who is the best teammate, it would be overwhelming with the guys who say Steve Smolinsky. He’s a guy who doesn’t get the playing time and doesn’t get the press, but he cares so much about us. He is the first guy who says, “Good game,” or if we lost or made a bad play says, “Don’t worry. We’ll get them back tomorrow.” He’s a special kid and a real special teammate.
INCH: Have you guys thought about going to D.C. during this historical time with the new president and does that make this trip any more special?
MG: Yeah, that’s part of our country, and it’s always a special thing to go down there with the new president and everything. Hopefully, we get to meet him one day.
INCH: When you think about next week do you allow yourself to think about what it might be like Saturday night if you’ve won the championship?
MG: All year, we’ve been trying to think about what’s at hand and what we can worry about. I really can’t say that we’ve been thinking about it. It’s crept in a little bit. It’s human nature to think about it. We just have to focus in on Vermont. We have to beat a real good hockey team to move on to the national championship. We’re going to take it one period at a time like we’ve done all year and hopefully not change a thing. Hopefully, it keeps working for us.