Following the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2-1 overtime win over the Rochester Americans in Friday’s exhibition game, Patrick McGrath found himself in a familiar place: in the trainer’s room getting some work done.
“It’s become a routine,” McGrath said, referring to his time in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he led in fighting majors last season.
But there was one thing about the night that wasn’t routine for McGrath. The Shavertown native became the first locally-born player to suit up for the hometown Penguins.
For McGrath, 20, the chance to play for the team he grew up watching was a dream come true.
“It was a pretty surreal feeling during warmups. But after that it was time to play the game,” he said.
For McGrath, that meant showing what he could do with his gloves off. Just five minutes into the game he fought Rochester’s Frederick Roy in a spirited fight that culminated with a McGrath uppercut that popped his opponent’s helmet into the air.
“That was a pretty good shot,” McGrath said.
Later in the period he fought Johnny McGuire in a bout that ended in a draw.
Later in the game McGrath showed what he could do with his gloves on when he created a scoring chance.
With two fights and an offensive chance on the night, McGrath felt he had played his game.
“I did the best I could and did exactly what got me here,” he said.
That’s what head coach John Hynes noticed, and he liked what he saw from McGrath.
“This is what he does. He’s a real tough kid and he made a reputation for himself in the Quebec League,” Hynes said. “He’s a guy with a lot of will and a lot of heart, and he’s good at what he does.”
And best of all, McGrath did it in the arena where he grew up watching the Penguins play, and he did it in front of a large group of family and friends.
“I think everybody in my family was here. It was an awesome experience,” McGrath said.
• After failing to score a goal all game, the Penguins waited until the very end to find the back of the net in dramatic fashion. With Rochester on the penalty kill and Carter Rowney on the ice as the Penguins’ extra attacker, the power play unit set up shop deep in the Americans’ end.
Brian Gibbons made a nice pass across the crease to Peter Ratchuk, who was wide open at the corner of the net and one-timed the puck home. The goal came with 2.7 seconds left in the third period and forced a 1-1 tie into overtime. During the overtime, Penguins’ rookie netminder Eric Hartzell stopped Eric Locke on a breakaway.
On the next rush up the ice, Cody Sylvester teamed up with Brendan Mikkelson on a two-on-one into the offensive zone. Sylvester gained the puck in front and shot into the back of the net before crashing into Rochester goaltender Matt Hackett. The referee originally waived off the goal and sent Sylvester to the box, but after conferring with his linesmen reversed the call.
“I was confident it went in before I hit the goalie,” Sylvester said.
• Jeff Deslauriers started in net and stopped all six shots he faced before being replaced by Hartzell midway through the second period.
• Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond dropped the gloves for the first time in the preseason, matching up against Rochester winger Johnny McGuire late in the first period. Leblond further demonstrated his value as the team’s new enforcer when he wrapped up Rochester’s Colton Gillies after he went after Philip Samuelsson in front of the benches.
“Pierre did his job to a T. He played really well, he had a fight and when Samuelsson had a big hit on a guy and the guy was going to jump him, he was right there,” Hynes said. “He wasn’t out of control but he did a nice job of keeping things under control”
• The Penguins travel to Hershey to take on the Bears before wrapping up the exhibition season at home on Sunday.
• Tom Kostopoulos wore the C on Friday while Zach Sill and Samuelsson wore the A.