WILMINGTON, Mass. — There’s another local feel to the air for the Boston Bruins.
In a season where former Boston College standout Jimmy Hayes is realizing his dream of playing for his hometown team, the Bruins have another local product who didn’t take long making an impact in Black and Gold.
After just one year at UMass-Amherst, the Bruins signed forward Frank Vatrano to an entry-level contract this summer. Since signing his first professional hockey contract, the East Longmeadow-born forward has done nothing but impress the B’s management and coaching staff.
Following a torrid pace with the Providence Bruins where he scored 10 goals in his first 10 games, Vatrano earned his first career call-up with Boston. What followed was a goal against the Montreal Canadiens and a solid showing the next night against the Islanders in Brooklyn.
“I think when you look at his game — and some players are so good at catching on quickly — I think his responsibility in all areas of the game is good,” head coach Claude Julien said following Tuesday’s practice.
“We like the fact that he’s a good shooter — that’s why we got him on one of our top lines. I think he can produce for us there. But at the same time, I like the fact that he’s been really taking the other areas of the game seriously. He’s done a great job in our own end. He’s done a great job through the neutral zone. Coming back, the backcheck has been good. So, all those areas that are not necessarily always fun to do but are important, I think he’s caught on to that.”
Playing on a line with David Krejci and Loui Eriksson against the Canadiens and Islanders this past weekend, Vatrano scored his first career goal and fired seven shots on goal while averaging a little over 13 minutes of ice time. His energy, skill and quickness made it easy for the Bruins’ brass to keep Vatrano in the lineup as the Bruins embark on a five-game homestand beginning Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
Putting Vatrano with skilled players like Krejci and Eriksson has given him a good start. Sticking with his game and skill set has paid dividends for the former Minuteman as he fills in for David Pastrnak who has missed the last week nursing a foot injury.
“They make the game so much easier for me,” Vatrano said about playing with Krejci and Eriksson. “I’m a shooter and I like to create offense off of my shot. They’ve been playing in the league for a long time and it makes it easier for me to play the first couple of games.”
For the past three days, Vatrano’s cell phone has been filled with phone calls and texts congratulating him on achieving his lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team in the National Hockey League.
“It’s been awesome,” Vatrano said of his first cup of coffee in the NHL. “Getting accustomed to NHL life has been really good, and, you know, I hope I can stay here longer and I just have to keep playing good and playing hard.”
With Vatrano and his family already flooded with ticket requests, the 5-foot-9 winger should have a few more texts from more family and friends to see him touch the TD Garden ice for the first time while donning the spoked ‘B’.
Of course, things can change in the next 48 hours and Vatrano isn’t getting too far ahead of himself.
“My phone has been blowing up, but of course, I can’t give them the answer because I don’t know the lineup and all that stuff for Thursday,” Vatrano said. “I just tell them ‘I don’t know yet’, but it’s great to have family and friends from around here who can come over and enjoy the game.”
As long as he continues his progression, Vatrano should be getting more ticket requests from his peers.