BOSTON — For years, the TD Garden, and even more so its predecessor the Boston Garden, was a place that Boston University celebrated championships.
If this June, one more championship could be raised to the rafters, and, if so, it will be a very special moment for five former Terriers.
Three Boston Bruins players – Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie Coyle – along with two assistant coaches – Jay Pandolfo and Joe Sacco – begin their quest in the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. All five are Boston University alums and have the opportunity to capture hockey’s greatest prize just miles away from the campus all once called home.
“Guys in the locker room come from different backgrounds, from different teams,” said Coyle, who was traded to Boston prior to this year’s NHL trade deadline. “They always try to say theirs is the best. Their school.
“We’ve got a big group [of BU alumni] and we try to stick together and say BU’s the king.”
Coyle, himself, predated players like McAvoy and Grzelcyk, but knows that the culture on Commonwealth Avenue, one that includes five national championships, nine Hockey East postseason titles and 30 Beanpot titles, ingrains a certain mentality that he believes is beneficial during a long run to the Stanley Cup Final that this year’s Bruins team has faced.
“It’s nice to be with those guys; I’m familiar with them all before we got here, just going to through the same avenue to get here,” said Coyle. “It’s nice. It’s great to be just down the street and have a lot of support from the fans that were there when we were there.
“We take a lot of pride in where we came from and where we went and what got us here.”
All three players have taken very different routes to this Bruins team. Coyle made his trip home to Boston in late February after more than six seasons with the Minnesota Wild. He was traded for another Beanpotter and son of a Bruins alum Ryan Donato prior to the trade deadline and made an immediate impact in this year’s playoffs, potting six goals in six assists in 17 playoff games entering Monday’s final.
Both McAvoy and Grzelcyk were draftees of Boston and each found the way to the Bruins separately.
Grzelcyk, who grew up in nearby Charlestown, Mass., and is the son of a long-time Garden employee who works to keep the Garden ice in tip-top shape (affectionately known as the “bull gang”), completed his four years at BU and then signed with the team, spending most of his first professional season in Providence before elevating to the NHL club. Since then, he has become one of the Bruins best defensive defenseman.
McAvoy’s development has been a little different. After two years with the Terriers, the first round draft pick jumped into the Bruins lineup at the end of the 2016-17 season and was playoff ready, registering three assists in six playoff game in that Bruins shortened Stanley Cup run.
Since then, he’s become an absolute leader on the blue line for the Black and Gold, consistently ranking among the top defensemen on the team in minutes per game, that at only 21 years of age.
“[McAvoy’s] been an obviously a top-tier guy, plays penalty kill, power play, every situation,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “When he came into the league [in 2017], playoff series against Ottawa, you could tell that he wasn’t going to be bothered by the moment, so to speak, so he’s kind of taken off from there.
“He’s a good player, a real good player that generally the bigger the moment gets, the more he relishes being in it and for a young guy that’s impressive. And that’s why he’s had the success he’s had and hopefully keeps right on trucking, because he’s been real good for us.”
McAvoy said, though he realizes the past is the past, being surrounded by so many faces from BU has made things very enjoyable.
“It’s something that’s unique,” said McAvoy about the volume of BU alumni that surround him. “From a college standpoint, I don’t know if another team has so many alumni within one franchise. It’s something that’s very cool.
“It’s cool to have a similar background with guys. Personally, I really enjoyed my time there. It’s exciting to have that kind of presence that close to home.”