Patrick McGrath skated onto the ice at Coal Street for the first day of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins training camp hoping to eventually make a bit of history.
McGrath, who grew up in the Back Mountain, hopes to become the first player who was born and trained in the area to skate for the Penguins. It’s a goal that the 20-year-old Lake-Lehman graduate set years ago.
Now, with Saturday’s start of training camp, McGrath’s goal is as attainable as ever.
“It was a pretty special feeling. I grew up here watching (the Penguins),” he said. “Guys like Tom Kostopoulos and Andy Chiodo — those were guys I looked up to and I’m just trying to follow their footsteps.”
Kostopoulos and Chiodo are also in camp, so McGrath is getting an opportunity to skate with some of his childhood heroes.
But he isn’t treating his invite to training camp as simply a goodwill gesture. McGrath, who is a physical winger with a penchant for dropping the gloves, has been paying his dues to get to this level. He spent the last two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he was tops last season with 29 fighting majors.
And in the offseason, McGrath has trained religiously with Penguins trainer Joe Lorincz and even worked with Dennis Bonvie to hone his fighting skills.
His approach to becoming a pro is much like to his approach on the ice.
“An in-your-face style of play. Just relentless and do whatever it takes to help my team win,” McGrath said.
McGrath’s hockey path began when his brother got him into the sport and he started playing for the Pocono Pirates before heading to Canada in 2011.
And on Saturday, McGrath found himself skating on the ice with some of the very Penguin players he grew up watching.
He didn’t hesitate to let them know about it, either.
“He was telling me he watched me play when he was a kid,” Kostopoulos said. “So he was making me feel a little old.
“But it’s really neat to have a kid who grew up in Wilkes-Barre in this dressing room.”
In order for McGrath to remain in the Penguins dressing room for the long-term, head coach John Hynes said he has to be able to play to his strengths.
“The number one thing for a player in his position is you want to play to your strengths. Whatever got you here you want to be able to show,” Hynes said.
While opportunities to fight in training camp are slim, McGrath’s best chance to show of his skills would be in a game situation. He’s hoping to play in an exhibition game with the Penguins — preferably one at home, but McGrath isn’t being picky.
He’s also willing to play in the ECHL with Wheeling if that’s what it takes to eventually earn a spot with the Penguins.
“I started out in the Q two years ago and they sent me down to the Maritime league. It didn’t discourage me,” McGrath said. “I had to climb from the bottom up and I came back to the Q and played every game, except for the ones I got suspended for.”
• Hynes was pleased with how the first day of camp went, especially with how well the players picked up on drills. “More often than not things were going right,” he said.
• Goaltender Peter Mannino, who signed a deal with the Penguins over the summer, didn’t practice due to an injury. Hynes said Mannino is skating and is considered day-to-day. In the meantime, former Penguin netminder Andy Chiodo has been invited to camp. Hynes said Chiodo was brought in as a result of Mannino missing time, but the opportunity may be greater.
“He (Chiodo) is here because he has good experience and we also want to give him a look,” Hynes said.
• Kostopoulos, who was signed to an AHL deal, participated in his first Wilkes-Barre/Scranton camp since 2003. With 630 games of NHL experience under his belt, Kostopoulos is being viewed as a veteran leader for the young guys — a role he is fine with.
“That will be a big part of my role here this year — help the younger guys move along. When I was young in this organization a lot of older guys helped me through,” Kostopoulos said. “My first year Tyler Wright took me under his wing and taught me a lot. He was a great guy for me to look up to. Then Dennis Bonvie, John Slaney, Chris Kelleher — that whole group. That’s the good thing about this organization, they keep quality people around to help the young guys.”
• The Penguins will practice again today at the Ice Rink at Coal Street from 10 a.m. to noon.