A simple inquiry grabbed the attention of Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. He was fighting with a skate-lace knot after the team’s morning skate on Tuesday when he was asked about Paul Vincent.
Grzelcyk quickly sat up in his locker stall with a smile on his face. The 5-foot-9, 174-pounder will jump at any chance to talk about Vincent, the skating and skills coach for the opposing Florida Panthers.
When Grzelcyk was a youth hockey player he attended Vincent’s summer hockey camps in Boston, and the now 24-year-old defenseman believes those sessions with the legendary skating coach led to the NHL.
“Huge,” Grzelcyk said. “Probably the No. 1 reason (I’m in the NHL) because I learned that skating ability at a young age. (My skating) at each level was kind of the reason why I got there, so a lot of credit goes to him.
“It was a lot of work. It was something that wasn’t always the most enjoyable just because when you’re a kid you want to be playing with pucks and stuff. It’s one of the main reasons why I was able to get to this level. Working with him so much and spending that time in the summer, multiple times per week, it certainly paid off in the long run. I think I learned a lot from him.”
Vincent, who has worked for the Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils, disagrees that Grzelcyk’s in the NHL because of his efforts — putting the focus right back on the Charlestown native.
“He’s told people I’ve had a big part of his success, but he’s the reason he’s successful,” Vincent said before Tuesday’s 5-0 Panthers win over the Bruins.
Grzelcyk is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman, effective at stopping opposing forwards despite his small size. He’s elusive, especially in tight spots. In fact, when assessing Grzelcyk’s abilities, Vincent said he believes Grzelcyk has many attributes of a pair of Hall of Famers – Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey.
Yes, you read that correctly.
“When Bobby played, he was really an under-sized guy,” Vincent said. Grzelcyk “possesses those natural instincts that Orr had that he knows where to move. He knows how to slip and slide. He knows how to avoid that big, crushing hit. Grizz’s really good attribute is how he distributes.”
Grzelcyk earned a spot on Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2013 World Junior Championship in Russia as the ninth defenseman, but did not make the final roster. That served as a catalyst for him to work harder to prove people wrong.
“His dad is a hard-working man and it wasn’t like (Matt) came from the golden-spoon club,” Vincent said, referring to John Grzelcyk, a member of the TD Garden Bull Gang. “He doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. He’s an incredible kid and comes from a great family.”
Vincent is no-nonsense. He’s old school. If you don’t like it, he won’t be afraid to show you the door. He doesn’t have patience for those who don’t want to work hard at improving their skills. There was never an issue with Grzelcyk’s work ethic and that’s on display now in the NHL.
“He’s always been a really good skater and he worked hard at it, because he was an under-sized kid all the way through youth hockey, high school and college,” Vincent said. “I can’t say enough great things about him. I’m so proud of him. He’s going to have a long career in the NHL.”
Kim Brandvold is the current skating and skills coach for the Bruins. Grzelcyk’s work with Brandvold is an extension of Vincent’s foundation.
“At an early age, Paul hammered home the fundamentals of basic skating and edge work,” explained Grzelcyk. “Now, with Kim, he expands on our base and makes it more like game situations. Spending the time in the summers with Paul is pretty similar to what we’re doing now too.”
David Krejci worked with Vincent in Providence, as did Brad Marchand. When asked how it helped, Krejci half-jokingly responded: “I’m in the NHL, right?”
Current Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers) coach Scott Gordon, who spent eight seasons behind the Providence bench, witnessed first-hand the impact Vincent had during his tenure there.
“Every player that was diligent about working with him improved,” Gordon said. “He didn’t always get them to the NHL, but certainly made them better players in the NHL, at the very least.”
Grzelcyk has become the perfect example of how hard work can pay dividends for a young player.
“People judge by size; not by heart,” Vincent said. “That’s what separates him – his heart. There’s only a few Matt Grzelcyks left in the world.”