WORCESTER - Whenever the AHL’s Worcester Sharks and Providence Bruins face off, the attendance is going to be good. But the crowd for last night’s rivalry game at the DCU Center was record-setting.
An estimated 10,000-plus fans turned out, the largest crowd in the six seasons the Sharks have played there.
But the real draw was a pregame appearance by Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ All-Pro tight end.
“New England Patriot fans, Worcester Sharks fans - you can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done,’’ Gronkowski said after spiking a puck at center ice, a play on his trademark end zone celebration.
“They were loud, they were crazy, they were enthusiastic. It was wild and I had a great time out there. It makes you appreciate [the support] and want to give back to them because they’re always there.’’
Gronkowski agreed to appear in Worcester after the Sharks offered to pay the $7,500 fine he incurred from the NFL for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty - a spike after a touchdown - in a 37-16 win over the Nov. 13 in East Rutherford, N.J.
Gronkowski, his recently surgically repaired left ankle heavily wrapped, arrived on crutches.
“Obviously, it’s not 100 percent,’’ he said, wearing a white Sharks jersey with his number, 87, on the back. “I mean, I’m getting better every day and that’s all you can ask for. Within a couple of weeks my goal is to be 100 percent and to keep on going day by day with it.’’
Despite the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, the Patriots had a season worth celebrating. And that’s just what the 22-year-old Gronkowski did, at one point dancing shirtless with lineman Matt Light during a team gathering.
Some fans complained Gronkowski didn’t take the defeat hard enough. Others, including the player himself, pointed out it was a long season and there was nothing wrong with relaxing a bit once it was over.
“It was a great season overall,’’ Gronkowski said. “The whole team gave everything they had - every ounce of sweat, every ounce of blood. I gave everything I had from the [AFC Championship game against Baltimore] to the New York Giants game. You just give every single ounce of sweat.
“I mean, it just happened I was with my family and my friends, people I hadn’t seen for over a year, and we were just having a fun time together. Obviously, the emotion . . . you don’t want to lose that game. You don’t play that long and get to the Super Bowl and want to lose. Obviously, that was an emotional game.’’
Although Gronkowski isn’t sure if he’ll be able to join his teammates when offseason workouts commence in mid-April, he’s working toward it.
“I can’t wait to get back,’’ he said. “I mean, I can’t do anything on my feet right now, but I’m working on my upper body and doing my core workouts because you’re just so motivated. Losing that last game, you want to keep on grinding so when it does happen again you can get the win.’’