Howard Herman: Bruins' Frank Vatrano making waves
BOSTON >> There aren't too many National Hockey League players who can say they have skated in the TD Garden and know where the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club rink is. Frank Vatrano is one of those guys.
The East Longmeadow native has made a believer out of his coach, out of the players in the Boston Bruins locker room and he's earning some belief in the rest of the National Hockey League.
"Playing in this league is more than just shooting the puck hard," Vatrano told me Friday. "For me, it's being reliable in my D-zone, being good in my neutral zone and getting pucks to teammates.
"Not just use my shot, but if the play is there. That's something they keep harping on and I keep on trying to improve on every day."
Vatrano never played high school hockey at the Boys Club because his Cathedral team played Division I hockey against the top teams in Metro Boston. He did play youth tournaments on the third floor of the Boys
Club. He did, however, laugh when it was suggested that he was the only player in the Bruins locker room - aside for trainer and North Adams native Don DelNegro - who could find Pittsfield without a GPS.
"I don't know. I think I might need that GPS," said Vatrano. "I think if I go straight from where I [live] I'll get there."
The Frank Vatrano story is a good one, and for Bruins fans, hopefully it will last a while.
The 21-year old hockey player spent a couple of years at Cathedral and then played two years with the U.S. National Development Team and lived in Ann Arbor, Mich. At Cathedral, he played three sports, including baseball. That makes it certain he's the only Bruin to ever set foot on the diamond at Clapp Park.
Vatrano said he spent Thanksgiving in the Pioneer Valley with his family and friends like former Pittsfield Suns players Frank Crinella and Brenden Geary.
From his time with the U.S. program, Vatrano went to play at UMass-Amherst, where he skated in all 36 games last year as a redshirt sophomore. Vatrano had 18 goals and 10 assists for the Minutemen.
He had gone undrafted and signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Bruins after the college season ended in 2015. Vatrano spent five games with Providence last year and had 10 goals and 2 assists in 10 games for the Providence team before getting the call up to the big club.
In seven games with the Bruins, he has three goals and was a plus-2 heading into Friday's home game with the New York Rangers.
The Bruins, you might recall, won that game 4-3 and Vatrano was a plus-1, giving him a plus-3 rating on the season.
As the crowd dissipated from in front of his spot in the TD Garden locker room, I asked him if he's been able to wrap his arms around the fact that here is a Western Massachusetts guy wearing a Spoked-B on the chest of his sweater, and in this case, on his T-shirt.
"I think it's all starting to settle down a bit," Vatrano said. "I'm here to make the most of my opportunities, and to prove to management, the coaching staff and the players that I'm reliable in all situations.
"I think that's the biggest change for me in coming up from Providence, is showing them I'm reliable not just in the O-zone, but every area on the ice."
You don't have to convince Bruins coach Claude Julien, who had an opportunity to praise Vatrano in the answer to a question, and made the most of it.
"The thing I like about Frank is that he's pretty reliable," the Bruins coach said during his Friday post-game press conference. "I know [Friday] he played on his off-wing, but you just have to look at two of his three goals and they came from that side of the ice. He shot the puck well.
"At the same time, he skates well. I know sometimes its a lot to put on a young player, but he's not playing like a young player in my mind. We showed a little bit of trust in him, and we were rewarded with a pretty decent game."
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