Boston Bruin, former Minuteman Frank Vatrano hoping for another productive summer

By MATT VAUTOUR

@MattVautourDHG

Published: 07-01-2016 8:38 PM

WEST SPRINGFIELD

To the people watching at the Olympia Thursday, Frank Vatrano is the guy with the heartwarming success story that landed him with the Boston Bruins.

He’s also the kid that grew up nearby in East Longmeadow playing a men’s league game with some guys he’s known for years as Vatrano’s past, present and promising future intersected late Thursday night at the old West Side rink.

A year ago, it was an intense approach to summer training and conditioning that turned Vatrano, who played parts of two seasons at UMass before turning pro, from a guy with elite-caliber shooting ability to a legitimate NHL player.

He’s hoping for another productive summer. After a season where he dominated in the American Hockey League (36 goals, 19 assists in 36 games) and was inconsistent in Boston (eight goals, three assists in 39 games), Vatrano is looking to solidify his credentials as an NHL contributor.

“Going into the summer, I know what to expect. This year was kind of a whirlwind for me. A lot of things I accomplished were things that really surprised me,” Vatrano said. “I put the work in last summer to have a good season. When you put the work in, success comes. I’m going to do the same thing this summer. I’m looking forward to it.

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“The summer is the biggest part of your development. Going into the season you have to make sure you get stronger and faster and work on the things you can’t usually work on during the season,” he added. “I’m two steps ahead of where I was last season.”

Vatrano said he was excited and motivated watching Conor Sheary, his friend and former UMass teammate, lift the Stanley Cup in his rookie season for the Penguins.

“We lived together at 94 Graves Street. He’s an awesome kid. To see how far he’s gone in the professional ranks is a great thing to see for a UMass kid,” Vatrano said. “Seeing a guy you hung with a whole bunch lifting the Cup, is awesome. It gives you goose bumps. I’m so happy for Conor. It’s great for UMass too.”

Vatrano was skating on a line with another ex-Minuteman Thursday, as former UMass captain T.J. Syner joined him on the Milano’s roster.

The Olympia’s Summer A Hockey League isn’t a stereotypical beer league. It’s pretty good hockey with a lot of recent high school and college talent playing at a pretty good pace. Vatrano is clearly the best player on the ice, but not so much so that he can just toy with the opposing players.

But it’s still a men’s league. Vatrano’s pants may have a Bruins logo on it, but one of his teammates has a sticker on his helmet supporting Cocchi for Sheriff.

Their light blue jerseys have Milano’s across the front making this game against Paddy’s Pub, a rare time where pizza and beer aren’t on the same side.

Vatrano’s local celebrity is growing. Before the game, two kids stopped their bubble hockey matchup in the Olympia lobby to pose for a picture with Vatrano, who was wearing a red TB12 cap. It wasn’t that long ago that he was pumping quarters into the same machine before one of the many youth hockey games on the same ice.

The extra attention carried over to the ice. Many of the just over 50 fans in the stands were a little more focused on the action when Vatrano had the puck.

Paddy’s players seemed unsure how tight to play Vatrano once he had the puck, trying to evaluate how to limit his potential damage.

Vatrano winced noticeably when he took a shot off the foot early in the game, but he shook it off and proceeded to dominate action.

In the 6-5 victory that kept Milano’s undefeated, Vatrano had three goals, and two assists. While he’s certainly playing to win and to stay sharp, the Thursday night league is just a small, albeit enjoyable part of his summer work.

“It’s great. It’s a bunch of my closest friends. To be with them once a week and spend time with them is really fun,” Vatrano said. “This is where I grew up playing hockey. It’s always good to come back. I enjoy it.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage

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