- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

One of college hockey's best defensemen doesn't have a scholarship, wasn't drafted by an NHL team, is older than Washington Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green… and will be a millionaire in the next few weeks.

Matt Gilroy's road from a forward who wasn't recruited by anybody to All-American blueliner for Boston University continues at 8:30 p.m. Thursday against Vermont in the Frozen Four at Verizon Center.

When the Terriers' season ends, he will be a free to sign with any NHL team that has 2009-10 salary cap space. A report in Canada this week put Gilroy's asking price in the $3 million range, much of it as a signing bonus.

But playing a key role for the nation's top-ranked team has Gilroy focused on the national championship, not the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.

“This year, it's really been easy,” he said after practice Wednesday. “When it first started happening my sophomore year, it was hard and it was hard last year. But around December, I blocked everything out. It's been the best feeling because there's no decision - I have to leave and I'm done. I knew I could just focus on BU and what's going on.”

Gilroy's situation isn't common. Most top players - including 13 of his teammates - have been drafted by NHL teams. A player making it through his entire career as a free agent is almost unheard of.

“It doesn't happen very often,” said Steve Richmond, the Washington Capitals' player development director. “It's rare to find a guy that walks on to a big-time school like BU and comes out of nowhere. And turning from a forward into an All-American defenseman? That's really rare. I don't know if it's happened before. It just goes to show you how players develop at different rates.”

Gilroy's production helped return BU to prominence. The Terriers (33-6-4) are making their first Frozen Four appearance since 1997, and Gilroy has upped his offense from 21 points last season to 36 points this year while improving in his own zone.

“He's everywhere,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “He has a great knack for knowing when to jump into the play. At times, it seems like he's an extra forward, and it makes it difficult to take chances against him because if you're not careful you end up giving up a lot of odd-man rushes with him leading the way.”

The only defenseman to be named first-team All-Hockey East three times, Gilroy said he arrived in Boston in September 2005 not just as a walk-on but “as a practice player, basically.”

Said teammate John McCarthy: “They were telling him he wasn't going to play his freshman year. But when he came to school in the fall, he was one of the best ones out there, and the upperclassmen noticed it too.”

Gilroy was 6-foot-2, 190 pounds as a 21-year-old freshman but only 5-7, 110 pounds as a 17-year-old.

“My driver's license picture that year, I was like a little alien,” he said.

The lack of growth forced the move from defenseman to forward, mostly out of self-preservation. But like his father and two brothers, Gilroy shot up. He is now listed at 6-2, 202.

Gilroy became a regular contributor as a freshman but admits he was a blueliner playing with a forward's mindset.

“My freshman and sophomore years, I was out of control with the offense because that's all I knew,” he said. “The coaches here demand you play defense, and that's really helped me develop into a two-way player.”

National title or no national title, Gilroy doesn't regret his decision to delay his pro career.

“Me staying here [four years] and being part of the BU tradition has been unbelievable,” he said. “College hockey is a special thing where it's only four years and once you leave, it's over. The way we ended last year, I remember looking at our seniors' faces and thinking, 'Is that how it has to end?' But I had another shot, and that's really motivated this team this year.”

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