Every morning Patrick McGrath makes the drive from his Shavertown home to the Toyota Sportsplex at Coal Street to train for the upcoming season.
The routine is nothing new for McGrath, 21, who played his first pro season last year with the Wheeling Nailers following two seasons of junior hockey in the QMJHL.
This summer, though, there is a difference. Earlier this month, McGrath signed a one-year deal to return to the Wheeling Nailers for the 2014-15 season. With the contract out of the way, McGrath can now spend his summer focusing on improving as a player and preparing for the upcoming season.
“It’s good to have a place where you know you’re wanted,” McGrath said. “The uncertainty of not knowing where you’re going to play isn’t easy, so it’s nice not to have to worry about that.”
McGrath hopes to get invited to an AHL training camp this September — preferably with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and would love a chance to attend the Penguins rookie camp later this summer. But for now, McGrath looks forward to returning to a place where the fans voted him the Player of the Year last season after he led the Nailers with 18 fighting majors.
Physical play is McGrath’s strength, as his 39 fighting majors and 171 penalty minutes both led the QMJHL in 2012-13.
The 5-10, 200-pound McGrath knows his role as an enforcer isn’t an easy one, but he admits the job has become easier with experience and advice from friend Dennis Bonvie.
“In the beginning you were a little timid to do it, but after a couple of years you get that experience and you see how much your team supports you, so you’re a lot more comfortable and confident with it,” McGrath said.
It’s a role that the Penguins organization values based on the notable tough guys, such as Bonvie, who have played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the years. As a kid watching games at the Mohegan Sun Arena, McGrath is happy to follow in their footsteps and hopes to become the first locally born player to appear in a regular season game for the hometown team.
McGrath got a taste of what it could be like when wore the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton jersey for a preseason game last year against Rochester.
“It would be huge to come back here again for training camp and get that chance again,” McGrath said. “I feel my chances are better coming off last season in Wheeling where I played quite a few games.”
And with that experience and a new contract under his belt, McGrath knows his focus not only has to center on fighting, but being a better all around player.
“Ever since I grew up here watching this team play, they’ve always been a blue-collar, hardworking team,” he said. “My training this summer is for all aspects of the game, not just becoming a better fighter. With the way the game is played today, it’s important to work on everything and keep improving.”