Eric Gryba suited up for four years along the Boston University blue line and loved everything about it — the school, the team, the big-city life.
“A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” recalled Gryba, who eschewed offers from North Dakota and Michigan for the chance to be a Terrier. “For a kid coming from Saskatchewan, it was pretty amazing. My eyes were opened and the bright lights were pretty appealing.”
Even if the area along the Green Line didn’t offer all the things in the great outdoors that he was accustomed to in his childhood days in Saskatoon.
“Yeah, that was a little frustrating,” Gryba recalled the other day, chatting by telephone after wrapping up his workout with the New Jersey Devils. “Not a lot of tree stands along Commonwealth Ave., right?
“Heck, in Saskatchewan the outdoors is . . . everywhere.”
Starting his seventh NHL season, the 30-year-old Gryba (pronounced GRIGH-buh) has really begun to cook, eight-plus years after graduating from BU. So much so, in fact, that his culinary flair, combined with his hunting and fishing expertise, have landed him his own TV show, “Grilling with Gryba,” which will debut in mid-November on Wild TV in Canada.
Gryba was age 12, the legal hunting age in Saskatchewan, when he bagged his first deer. He was fishing and hunting far earlier, his mom reminding friends that he was all of 18 months old when his dad first toted him around in a baby backpack for countless duck hunting excursions.
“With headphones on,” noted Gryba, who today is a strapping 6 feet 4 inches and 222 pounds, his eye sharp and his hearing intact.
His new show, which will kick off with five or six episodes, focuses on the hunting and cooking elements found on Gryba’s website: ericgryba.com. Taught to cook by his dad, Shawn, Gryba’s tastes not surprisingly are centered on the great outdoors. As the website notes, “If you’re not grillin’, you’re not livin.’ ”
Gryba specialties posted on his website include wild boar loin, goose legs, fish batter, and venison jerky. Not a single one of those tummy-pleasers was readily available at the corner of Comm. Ave and Babcock Street during his BU days.
“Hey, nothing I’m doing,” kidded Gryba, playing along with a joke from a fellow BU alum, “ever could beat the steak tips and rice at T. Anthony’s.”
A free agent this past summer, Gryba opted to sign with the Devils, feeling it was the best fit when weighing offers from Boston and New Jersey. Signed to a two-way contract (with a $300,000 guarantee), he made the Devils’ varsity out of camp as the seventh defenseman. As the weekend approached, he had yet to play in a game this season, following a 2017-18 campaign in which he played only 21 games as a depth defenseman with the Oilers.
Gryba figures the TV show one day could be part of his overall post-NHL work plan. It all started on a whim, he said, and he is intrigued to see how the show is received and developed. One of the episodes will have Eric and his dad hunting wild turkey and boar in Texas, another will have him bow hunting in Ontario, another fishing in Saskatchewan.
The most exotic thing he has hunted, said Gryba, was an axis deer in the Hawaiian islands. He was there to attend the wedding of Zach Smith, a teammate in Ottawa, and he ended up cooking both the deer he shot and his own fresh-caught mahi-mahi for the wedding party. He chose to use the grill at the party’s rental house rather than a cooking pit at the surf’s edge.
“Yeah, a deer on the spit on the beach,” mused Gryba. “I think the tourists might not take too kindly to that.”
TIME WELL SPENT
Winnik enjoyed Bruins tryout
Ex-UNH standout Daniel Winnik, in the Bruins camp for a tryout, signed on last week with Geneve-Servette in Switzerland and possibly could hitch on with an Original 31 club late in the NHL season upon the completion of his Swiss schedule.
“Loved his time in Boston and was really appreciative of the opportunity,” said Brian Bartlett, Winnik’s Charlestown-based agent. “No regrets at all . . . the Bruins were up front about wanting to look at their kids and also getting an idea how he might fit in, if needed.”
The 6-2, 210-pound Winnik, a left winger most of his NHL career, also eagerly embraced the chance to play center during his time in Boston’s camp. He was working through the position’s nuances but was obviously well ahead of some of the young forward prospects when it came to managing pucks and positioning, particularly in the offensive zone.
No doubt Winnik (798 NHL games) would have been a competent, solid fit in Boston as a 12th or 13th forward, but the Bruins chose to open the season with kids and free agent signings, including a returning Anders Bjork, who happens to be another Bartlett client.
Winnik will join a versatile Tommy Wingels, a Bruins short-timer last season, with Geneve Servette in the top Swiss League. According to Bartlett, Servette came calling for Winnik’s services in part because Wingels recently was sidelined by injury. Tanner Richard, a former Tampa Bay pick (No. 71 in 2012) from Toronto, also is playing with Servette, his second season in Geneva.
Winnik, 33, played three seasons at UNH and left Durham in 2006 to turn pro with Phoenix’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio. He has played for eight NHL teams and this is his first tour overseas.
“That big ice surface at UNH, I don’t think you really realize how it helps until you leave,” said Winnik, who grew up in Toronto and hadn’t played on the oversized Olympic sheet until arriving at UNH. “The one thing UNH made me do was skate more, and that helped me improve as a skater. And it was a great coaching staff — Dick Umile, Dave Lassonde, and Scott Borek. Our special teams were great — Dave really helped on the penalty-kill side of things and Scott Borek on the power-play side of things. And Dick was such a knowledgeable head coach. UNH makes you really grow as a person, and being away from home I think you really understand how unbelievable the New England area is and its passion for sports.”
Many Toronto-area kids, if serious about pursuing hockey as a career, grow up thinking Canada’s top junior leagues, such as the Ontario-based OHL, are the preferred path. Winnik said the priority in his home was education.
“My dad brought me up with the belief that if you are good, they’ll find you no matter where you play,” Winnik said. “Didn’t matter if you went major junior, college, Russia, or Iceland . . . somewhere, it didn’t matter, if you’re that good, they’ll find you.”
Barrasso a long way from home
His name engraved twice on the Stanley Cup from his heyday in the Pittsburgh net, Tom Barrasso last week landed a gig in Sheffield, England, as the new head coach of the Sheffield Steelers.
Barrasso played his amateur hockey at Acton-Boxboro High School and was the NHL’s Calder Trophy winner (Rookie of the Year) in 1984, having entered the NHL in October 1983 as an 18-year-old with the Sabres. His best years were with the Penguins (1988-2000), followed by some career hopscotching at the end with stops in Ottawa, Carolina, Toronto, and St. Louis.
Now 53, Barrasso has spent the last 10-plus years in coaching, including a four-year stint with the Hurricanes, first as a goalie coach and then a full assistant under Paul Maurice, whom he later followed to the KHL (Magnitogorsk). Prior to Sheffield, Barrasso was the bench boss in Asiago, Italy, where last season he led Supermercati Migross to the Alps Hockey League Championship.
Barrasso no doubt will emphasize the skating game. One key to his success, he maintained through his NHL playing days, was that he learned the fundamentals of figure skating at a young age. The same was true of Needham’s Robbie Ftorek, perhaps the Bay State’s greatest schoolboy player, who also had a short stint as the Bruins’ bench boss.
Barrasso and Ftorek believe that figure skating, with its emphasis on edge work and balance, provided them with on-ice skills that most hockey players of their era never developed. Today’s players learn similar skills, though typically acquired in power-skating classes tailored specifically for hockey.
Barrasso’s Steelers, ranked last in the 11-team British League, play next on Wednesday against the Fife Flyers.
Barrasso grew up in Stow and played at Acton-Boxboro with Bob Sweeney and Jeff Norton, both of whom also had NHL careers. There won’t be another public school system in the Bay State that one day again delivers three kids, roughly the same age, to the NHL.
Over the last 20-plus years, playing the high school game around here has all but become a default position, a place where kids play to get in their last shifts and saves — unless they hold on by playing club hockey at the college level. A smattering of kids might make it to a college program, as a 20- or 21-year-old freshman, after first tuning up in a development league, such as the USHL. But such leagues are typically stocked with blue-chip products, kids often just waiting for a slot to open up at their preferred school.
To Belfast . . . with friendship
BU, UConn, Union, and Yale will be the schools that head to Belfast for the fourth annual Friendship Four Tournament during the Thanksgiving holiday. The Bruins played an exhibition tuneup in Belfast in the fall of 2010, the season that ended with their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Ex-BU players Steve Thornton (class of ’95) and Shane Johnson (’97) work in the Belfast Giants front office and help to organize the tournament.
Joe Bertagna, commissioner of Hockey East, again will be in Northern Ireland. Legendary former BU coach Jack Parker is expected to make the trip.
Following his goalie days at Harvard (’72), Bertagna played a season in Italy, backstopping for Cortina d’Ampezzo, a ski resort town near the Austrian border. Italian fans assumed, by reading the name on the back of his sweater, that he was of local stock.
“It was the fall of ’74,” recalled Bertagna, “and [Richard] Nixon had resigned in August of ’74. Somewhere in the middle of the season they discovered I was American. And from then on it was, ‘Hey, Bertagna . . . Nix-on . . . Nix-on!’ It was bad.”
Tuukka talks tailoring
NHL goalies are working with slightly smaller chest protectors.
“The shoulder pads are square now, whereas before they were rounder at the top,” Boston’s top stopper, Tuukka Rask, explained after a recent practice.
Padding along the forearms, linked to glove and blocker, also has been trimmed — tailoring that exposes the goaltenders to more potential pain from shots.
“It’s not good when you feel the shots, obviously,” said Rask. “But other than that, I don’t see a big difference. Mine was so old, that it’s pretty much the same size as the one I’m using this year. Just more exposure around the shoulders, and the tightening up of the forearms with less padding.”
Two seasons ago, the NHL finally followed through and implemented tighter standards on goalie pants, insisting that they be smaller and tailored to each goalie’s body size. No more dressing up like rodeo clowns, with oversized trousers and excess material for stopping pucks.
Will the league leave their cage warriors alone now?
“No way,” said Rask, “they’re always trying to figure something out. But, hey, whatever they tell you to do, you do, and it is the same for everybody.”
Rick Nash last week made his first public remarks since season’s end, telling The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, long a chronicler of all things Blue Jackets, that he is not officially retired and might one day try to continue his NHL career. “I have to get my health in the right spot,” Nash told Portzline, “before I figure out what my plans are.” The Bruins, who dished Ryan Spooner to the Rangers as part of the deal to obtain Nash at last season’s deadline, remain interested in talking contract if Nash, 34, feels up to giving it another go. Already with a history of concussions, Nash took another knock on March 17, Bruins at Lightning, and didn’t return until the playoffs started. He was a lackluster 3-2—5 in his 12 postseason games and still not completely “right” after the most recent concussion . . . In his first three games back in the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk delivered 1-2—3 for the Kings. Probably better than expected, all things considered (including his three-year $18.75 million deal with LA). In the KHL last season, Kovy rolled up 31 goals and 63 points in 53 games. But hard to know what that means. Consider: Ex-Bruin Brandon Bochenski, now in his eighth KHL season with Astana Barys, knocked home 17 goals and finished with 53 points. Only a 10-point differential . . . Headed into the weekend, Lee Stempniak, a Bruins veteran tryout this fall, remained in camp. The front office asked if he would stick around through the first homestand (which wrapped up Saturday vs. the Red Wings), allowing a more comprehensive assessment of their young forwards and overall personnel cohesiveness . . . Off to an 0-3 start under new coach David Quinn, the Rangers on Thursday night moved defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the sidelines in hopes of tightening their porous blue line, and then went out and beat the Sharks, 3-2, in overtime. Shattenkirk, ex- of BU, has this season and two more guaranteed at $6.65 million. Tough move, particularly given his beefy salary, but Shattenkirk had offseason knee surgery and perhaps the respite will help him shore up his legs and game . . . Eric Gryba played his four seasons under Parker at BU, but he was recruited by then-assistant Quinn. “Quinny,” said an appreciative Gryba, “could sell ice to the Eskimoes.” . . . The Canadiens are pleased with rookie pivot Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 18, slotted between Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia, the latter of whom also grew up in Kotkaniemi’s hometown of Pori, Finland (what were the chances?). Looks like Kotkaniemi is there to stay — his mom, Kati, is moving to Montreal, allowing him now to move out of a hotel near the club’s practice facility and enjoy some of mom’s home-cooked meals.
Another former Bruin, defenseman Kevin Dalman, is playing on that same Astana team with Bochenski. It’s Dalman’s 11th KHL season and his ninth in Astana. His short stay in Boston was in 2005-06 and it ended when the Blues claimed him off of waivers . . . Paul Postma, who couldn’t win a regular spot on the Bruins’ defense last season, is suiting up regularly this season Kazan Ak Bars in the KHL. He put up a 3-7—10 line in his first 16 games . . . Old pal Chuck Kaiton, for decades the radio voice of the Whalers and then Hurricanes, still hopes to resurface doing play-by-play somewhere in the NHL. In the meantime, Kaiton and buddy Pete D’Arruda are doing a once-a-week podcast (livehappyshow.com) — an hour’s chat about sports, wine, and cigars. Could 60 minutes possibly be better spent?