AMID THE frenetic final moments of the third period of the Frozen Four title game in Washington, D.C., last Saturday night, Boston University senior defenseman Matt Gilroy was an oasis of calm. With his heavily favored team trailing by a goal, the Terriers captain faked a point-blank shot in the slot, causing Miami (Ohio) forward Justin Mercier to slide past him. Then Gilroy threaded a backhand pass to center Nick Bonino, who beat Redhawks goalie Cody Reichard from the right circle, tying the score at 3--3 with 17 seconds left.
The play, symbolic of the patient determination that has defined Gilroy's career, highlighted one of the most stirring finishes in college hockey history. The Terriers, down 3--1, had pulled goalie Kieran Millan with 3:31 to play before Zach Cohen's backhander closed the gap to 3--2 with 59 seconds left. BU would win 11:47 into overtime on a goal by defenseman Colby Cohen.
"Gilroy's play saved the day," says BU coach Jack Parker. "In the heat of any moment, I don't know if I can name a better one." Parker has seen a few. His 30th tournament victory—he's been coaching BU since 1973—is the most in NCAA history, one more than BC's Jerry York.
Parker, though, didn't have such kind words for Gilroy in 2005. Two years removed from his days as a 5'7", 140-pound forward at St. Mary's High in Manhasset, N.Y., and playing in the Eastern Junior league, Gilroy asked to join BU as a walk-on forward. "We told him not to come," Parker says. "We had right-shot forwards with better size and skill. We had no place for him." Gilroy, though, agreed to join as a practice player—and switch to defense. With his relentless work habits Gilroy, now 6'2" and 190 pounds, cracked the lineup by the season's fourth game.
The rookie also challenged the odds by asking for jersey number 97 from Parker, a traditionalist who doesn't care for showy high numbers. "What?" said Parker when Gilroy's request was first relayed to him by an assistant. "This kid's just lucky we're giving him a shot." But Matt wanted 97 to honor his brother Timmy, who wore those digits on his youth team in 1993, the year he died in a bike accident. Matt, then nine and a year older than Timmy, swore he would wear 97 as far as his career took him, and when Parker understood the circumstances, he relented.
As a sophomore, Gilroy built a reputation as a steady decision maker who saw the ice especially well, and he earned a scholarship for his junior year. After that season (he was named first-team All-America) BU took away the scholarship, assuming he'd go pro. Instead, Gilroy came back (sans scholarship), and on Friday, after a season in which he led Hockey East defensemen with 28 points, he got the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top player. "I stayed because I had unfinished business," says Gilroy. "I guess the best things take time."
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