Frank Vatrano impressing in Boston Bruins rookie camp

By Ross Gienieczko

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

When announced he was leaving the Massachusetts hockey team to sign a professional contract with the Providence Bruins, it was a surprising but not altogether unexpected development for the Minutemen. Vatrano was a lauded recruit at the beginning of his college career, and initially committed to hockey powerhouse Boston College to play for legendary coach Jerry York.

Instead, after complications with his eligibility, Vatrano transferred to UMass and was forced to sit out all but one game of the 2013-2014 season.

It might have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Vatrano had a breakout season in the Minutemen’s 2014-2015 campaign, scoring a team-high 18 goals and compiling 28 points. He was a threat on the power play as his six goals in that category were good for sixth in the ultra-competitive Hockey East conference. He also ranked second in the entire country in shots on goal, landing 194. In short, Vatrano proved he was still a very talented hockey player who was not affected by a year away from in-game action.

Everyone around the program took notice, and the Boston Bruins did too.
After UMass’ season ended in March, Vatrano signed with Providence and joined the team immediately, playing five games in the American Hockey League at the end of the season. Over the summer he participated in Boston’s player development camp, and this fall he’s been a regular at Bruins captains practice alongside players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Last weekend, Vatrano was named an alternate captain for the all-rookie team Boston took to Buffalo for a prospects tournament with the Sabres and New Jersey Devils.

The “A” given to Vatrano by the coaching staff could not have meant more to the 21-year-old East Longmeadow native.

“It was an honor,” Vatrano said. “I grew up a Bruins fan my whole life and I never thought the day would come that I would actually wear the letter at rookie camp or even be with the Bruins at all. It was truly an honor to wear that this weekend.”

Vatrano impressed at the prospects tournament, scoring three goals in two games – including an overtime winner against the Devils Sunday night.

Tuesday, Vatrano said there was no secret to his success.

“(I’ve just been) keeping it simple and playing hockey the way I’ve always played – working hard and using my shot to generate offense,” Vatrano said. “If I’m moving my feet and doing those things, the rest of my game takes over.”

After a strong showing at the prospect tournament, Vatrano will return to Boston, where he’ll prepare for the official start of Bruins training camp on Thursday.

But first, Vatrano reflected on the journey he’s taken to get to this point.

“I never thought the day would come,” Vatrano admitted. “Especially with the road I’ve been through and how long I sat out.”

Vatrano said his time in Providence helped him adapt to life as a professional and credited development camp with helping him become a more complete hockey player.

But he isn’t a National Hockey League player just yet. Vatrano faces a tough task trying to crack a reloaded Bruins roster that features many veteran forwards, and the organizational depth Boston has at forward is one of its biggest strengths. Still, Vatrano will do his best to make an impact, or perhaps increase the size of the impact he’s already made.

“Everyone’s there to impress management and try to leave their mark on the Bruins organization,” Vatrano said of training camp.

And while his NHL dream may not be realized this season, Vatrano is confident that, after a three-year whirlwind that’s featured two college teams and one professional organization, he’s on the right track.

“I had a good year last year,” Vatrano said of his time with UMass. “Now I’m trying to have a good year in Providence and hopefully be up in the NHL sooner rather than later.”

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien